Yemeni Prime Minister Khaled Bahah made a symbolic visit to the devastated port of Aden from Saudi exile Saturday, two weeks after loyalist forces ousted Shiite rebels from the city.
Bahah became the highest ranking official to return to the southern city since the government announced its liberation in mid-July.
He was followed by officials whose task will be to restore normality and public services to a city battered by four months of ferocious combat.
Bahah, who is also vice president in Yemen’s internationally recognised government, fled into exile with President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and his team in March when the rebels entered Aden.
Impoverished Yemen has been rocked by fighting between the Huthi rebels and Hadi loyalists, who have received air support from a Saudi-led Arab coalition for the past four months.
The United Nations says the war has killed nearly 4,000 people, half of them civilians, while 80 percent of the 21-million population is in need of aid and protection.
On Monday, a humanitarian pause declared by the coalition went into effect but collapsed the next day.
An airport source said Bahah flew in on a Saudi military plane and promised in an arrival statement that “normal life” would return to a “liberated Aden”.
He visited several districts and was briefed on damage to the presidential palace, state broadcaster and military headquarters, a security source said.
He was also to visit people wounded in the fighting during his hours-long symbolic visit, a member of his delegation said.
Bahah later flew out to Abu Dhabi, a government source said.
“Aden is the key to victory” in reconquering the country, the premier’s spokesman Rajeh Badi told Al-Arabiya television, adding that Hadi could soon also return “at any time”.
Several government officials also arrived in Aden on a separate plane from Saudi Arabia, said Human Rights Minister Ezzedine al-Isbahi.
– Restoring services –
He told AFP they would supervise work under way to reopen public buildings, including the resumption of broadcasts at state television and radio, and restore services in the battered city.
The interior and transport ministers toured parts of Aden in mid-July during a brief visit to assess the damage.
They also looked at ways to fully reopen the ports and airport to allow the delivery of desperately needed relief supplies.
The head of the Red Crescent in Aden, Ahmed Mansur, told AFP the charity had received food aid from the United Arab Emirates and was able to hand out 20,000 rations to residents of three neighbourhoods.
A planeload of aid also arrived from Qatar on Saturday.
Yemen in normal times was dependent on imports for most of its supplies, including food, medicine and fuel.
More than 10 million people are now struggling to obtain food and water, the UN says.
An AFP correspondent who toured Aden said authorities have managed to partly reopen main roads after removing debris, including burned out military vehicles and cars.
Residents have also ventured outdoors to take stock of the damage, some returning from other areas of the city to homes devastated in the fighting.
Government forces were pressing an advance Saturday north and east of Aden to dislodge rebels still entrenched in Lahj and Abyan provinces, officials and witnesses said.
Coalition warplanes stepped up raids late Friday and early Saturday against rebels in the strategic Al-Anad airbase in Lahj province, military sources said.
Strikes also targeted the southeastern province of Taez, where fighting killed 47 rebels and five pro-government forces, they added.
Witnesses reported that coalition warplanes also bombarded the province of Marib east of Sanaa and the rebel stronghold of Saada in the north.
Coalition member Egypt on Saturday extended its participation in the coalition for another six months “or until the end of the combat mission” if that happens first.
The rebels and their allies remain in control of the capital Sanaa and large swathes of Yemen.