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Yemen Descends Deeper Into Chaos as Airstrikes Continue and Civilian Casualties Mount

At least 25 people were reported killed in ground skirmishes as airstrikes from a Saudi-led coalition continued to pound Houthi strongholds for the third straight week.
April 11, 2015, 8:25pm
Photo by Hani Mohammed/AP

Yemen continued to descend deeper into chaos Saturday, with at least 25 deaths reported in clashes between government forces and Houthi militias, according to local officials.

A health official said that snipers killed several civilians — including a child and an elderly woman — during fighting in the southern city of Aden, the news site Middle East Eye reported.

The ground skirmishes took place as airstrikes from a Saudi-led coalition continued to pound Houthi strongholds throughout the country for the third straight week. Between Friday night and Saturday, Saudi strikes bombed Houthi military sites in Aden and the city of al-Hudaya, in the west of the country. The strikes hit a former presidential palace and government buildings being used by the Houthis, according to Reuters.

Al Arabiya, a Saudi-owned television news channel, reported Saturday that Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, claimed that, "Houthi militias are amassing close to the Saudi-Yemeni border," and said that the coalition would seek a "ground operation when needed."

Related: To win its war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia may have to split the country in two 

Saudi Arabia said the airstrikes have targeted Houthi weapons storage facilities, but aid groups reported that civilians have also been killed, and that the bombardment is making it increasingly difficult to deliver much-needed medical and food aid to the already-vulnerable population.

On Friday, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Johannes van der Klaauw, warned of an increasing humanitarian crisis as a result of the fighting, calling for an "all the parties for an immediate humanitarian pause in this conflict."

"Ordinary Yemeni families are struggling to access health care, water, food and fuel — commodities that are basic requirements for their survival," van der Klaauw said in a statement.

Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world, with 16 million out of the country's population of 25 million already requiring some type of humanitarian assistance even before war broke out, according to the UN.

According to the World Health Organization, at least 648 people have been killed in the past several weeks of fighting.

The Houthis practice a Zaydi form of Shia Islam that largely unique to northern Yemen. The group toppled the country's Sunni-dominated government after capturing the capital city of Sanaa in September. Ground battles have been ongoing for almost a month between rebels and forces loyal to deposed Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who fled to Saudi Arabia late last month.

Related: Photos show horrific aftermath of airstrike that hit refugee camp in Yemen 

Despite being heavily bombarded by the Saudi-led coalition, the Houthis have continued their advance south, where various armed militias have sprung up to resist them.

The Houthis have consistently denied receiving support from Iran, a predominantly Shia nation, yet Reuters reported Saturday that local militiamen in Aden claimed to have captured two Iranian military officers.

If confirmed, the capture would be the first actual evidence that Tehran is actively providing support to the Houthi insurgency. Sources told Reuters that the two Iranian officials were members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard and were captured after intense gun battles in Aden. The sources said they plan to turn the two Iranians over to Saudi Arabia "to deal with them."

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928