Saudi-led coalition warplanes have resumed air strikes on Yemen's capital for the first time in three months, killing 14 people Tuesday and shutting the airport after UN-brokered talks were suspended.
The coalition intervened in March last year after Shiite Huthi rebels and allied forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh overran Sanaa the previous September.
They later tightened their grip on power and forced President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to flee in February 2015.
Hadi is now based in Riyadh, as are members of his internationally recognised government who travel between Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s temporary capital Aden in the south.
Coalition spokesman General Ahmed Assiri confirmed that the air strikes against the rebels had restarted and led to the closure of Sanaa airport, saying warplanes hit military targets “around” the city.
Medics there told AFP that 14 people were killed in coalition strikes which residents said hit a food factory in central Sanaa.
Factory director Abdullah al-Aqel gave a higher toll of 16 dead and 10 wounded, and said all the victims were workers.
The Al-Aqel factory, which makes potato chips and is near a military equipment maintenance centre targeted in the raids, was hit during working hours, he said.
Six charred bodies were removed from the area, residents had said earlier.
Huthi spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam, writing on Facebook, accused the coalition of “committing heinous crimes” by targeting a food factory.
– Tattered ceasefire –
He also spoke of other strikes in the rebel strongholds of Saada, Hajja, and Ibb.
The raids come less than 72 hours after more than three months of UN-brokered peace talks in Kuwait were suspended following the appointment by the rebels and their allies of a council to run Yemen.
The talks made no headway, but UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed refused to call the negotiations a failure and said he would continue to consult with both sides to arrange further meetings.
A ceasefire that started on April 11 failed to hold as the parties traded accusations of violations.
Assiri said the coalition had respected the truce for three months but had resumed operations because of increased violations by the rebels and the failure of the Kuwait talks.
In July, the rebels rejected a UN peace plan and announced the creation of the governing council, a move that strengthens their control of Sanaa.
Despite being backed by coalition air power, government forces have so far failed to retake Sanaa and other parts of northern Yemen.
Authorities are also struggling to assert control on southern parts of the country they have recaptured since last year as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State group militants exploited the conflict to expand in these zones.
Coalition aircraft have also been targeting Al-Qaeda and IS jihadists.
A security official said on Tuesday that coalition strikes have forced Al-Qaeda out of Azzan, a key town in the southern province of Shabwa.
– Flights suspended –
Azzan lies on the highway between Shabwa’s provincial capital Ataq and Mukalla, capital of the vast desert province of Hadramawt and which was under Al-Qaeda control for a year until April.
In Sanaa, flights were suspended on Tuesday for at least three days.
“Operations are ongoing, and this could endanger flights,” Assiri told AFP.
Sanaa airport director Khalid al-Shayef said the facility would be shut for 72 hours from Tuesday morning, at the order of Saudi Arabia.
Abdulsalam said that Saudi authorities did not allow the rebel delegation’s flight from Kuwait, which made a stopover in Muscat, to leave for Sanaa on Tuesday.
It was postponed for more than 72 hours after coordination with the United Nations, he said.
The UN says that more than 6,400 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Yemen since the coalition air campaign began last March.
Children’s agency UNICEF said Tuesday that “four children were reportedly killed and three were injured” on Sunday in Nihm, northeast of Sanaa.
Local sources in the area, where fighting had been non-stop since months, confirmed to AFP that a coalition air strike that day on a market killed 13 civilians.
“UNICEF deplores such acts and urges all parties to exercise maximum caution and avoid civilian infrastructure,” said the UN agency which estimates that more than 1,100 children have been killed since March 2015.
Meanwhile, the official sabanew.net website reported that pro-Hadi chief-of-staff General Mohammed Ali al-Maqdishi has spoken to the president of “great victories” in Nahm, adding that “Sanaa is close to being liberated”.
The army is making “significant advances with support from the Arab coalition forces”, Maqdishi said.