Rebel drone kills 6 loyalists at biggest Yemen airbase


Soldiers inspect the scene of a Houthi drone attack on a Yemeni government military parade in Al-Anad Air Base, Lahaj Province, Yemen, on Thursday.

AFP-Jiji AL-ANAD AIR BASE, Yemen (AFP-Jiji) — A rebel drone hit Yemen’s largest air base Thursday, killing six loyalist soldiers during a military parade in an attack which threatens to hamper U.N.-led peace efforts.

At talks in Sweden last month, the United Nations brokered several agreements between Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed government seen as the best chance of ending nearly four years of devastating conflict.

The Shiite Houthi rebels said they carried out the strike on Al-Anad Air Base, in government-held Lahij Province some 60 kilometers north of Yemen’s second city Aden.

At least 12 people were wounded, including top commanders, according to medics at Ibn Khaldoun hospital in the provincial capital Huta.

Footage of the attack showed a drone exploding over a podium around which dozens of military personnel were standing.

Soldiers scrambled to carry wounded comrades to military vehicles, while a man holding a camera bled on the ground.

An AFP correspondent at the scene said journalists were among the wounded.

Originally built by the then Soviet Union during the Cold War, Al-Anad served as the headquarters for U.S. troops overseeing a long-running drone war against Al-Qaida until March 2014, when it was overrun by the Houthi.

Government forces recaptured it in August 2015 as they recovered territory from the rebels with support from a Saudi-led military coalition.

Top brass wounded

Yemen’s deputy chief of staff Saleh al-Zandani, intelligence Brig. Gen. Saleh Tamah and senior army commander Fadel Hasan were among the wounded, along with Lahij Gov. Ahmad Abdullah al-Turki, doctors at Ibn Khaldoun hospital told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Chief of staff Gen. Abdullah al-Nakhi was also at the base at the time of the attack, a pro-government official said. He was not named among the casualties.

The strike on loyalist top brass is likely to create a new obstacle to the launch of formal peace talks.

Yemeni Information Minister Moammer al-Eryani said Thursday’s drone attack was “a strong blow” to the United Nations’ peace efforts.

“The Houthi militia does not believe in the language of peace and knows nothing but killing and terror,” he tweeted.

The Houthis said the attack was “in response to the enemies’ continuous air raids,” in a statement carried by the rebels’ Al-Masirah TV.

In last month’s talks, the warring sides agreed truce deals for the key rebel-held aid port of Hodeida and battleground third city Taez.

Griffiths told the Security Council on Wednesday that a new meeting was to be held in Jordan next week to follow up on a major prisoner swap agreed by the warring parties last month.

On Thursday, Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani said the Sweden agreement “hadn’t achieved anything on the ground,” during a press conference with his Jordanian counterpart in Amman.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said Griffiths had requested Amman host “a specific meeting” on Yemen and that the kingdom was mulling it over.

Griffiths told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that both parties in the Yemen war had “largely adhered to the ceasefire and there has been a significant decrease in hostilities.”

Residents in Hodeida on Thursday remained on edge amid the relative calm.

“We are afraid that the agreement between the Houthi and the resistance [Yemeni government alliance] will collapse,” Mohammed Ali told AFP. “We are watching the situation with great concern. We see nothing reassuring.”

The latest negotiations sparked hopes of ending a conflict which has left nearly 10 million people just one step from famine in what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

But Griffiths has warned repeatedly that even small steps towards peace remain fragile. “It is my view and it is shared by the leadership of both parties, but also others, that substantial progress, particularly on Hodeida of course, is something that we would like to see before we reconvene the next consultations,” he said.Speech

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