SANAA, Yemen — Yemeni forces battling the Shiite rebels in the country’s south said they took control on Tuesday of the airport in the strategic port city of Aden, driving the rebels there into a part of the city jutting out into the sea.
The advance is a major blow for the rebels, known as Houthis, basically trapping them on the small peninsula that is part of Aden. Residents elsewhere in this city on the Arabian Sea took to the streets later on Tuesday to celebrate the advances by the anti-rebel forces.
Tuesday’s operation was assisted by “preparatory airstrikes” by the Saudi-led coalition that targeted the Houthi positions over the past few days, according to a statement by Ali al-Ahmadi, the spokesman for the Aden Resistance Leadership Council, which leads the city’s anti-rebel forces.
Independent security officials confirmed the advancement but rebel officials refused to comment on the developments. Both the independent and the rebel officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Al-Ahmadi said logistical support from the coalition gave the anti-rebel forces the upper hand against the Houthis, weakened by months of airstrikes.
The Saudi-led forces, “in addition their undeniable role in logistical support and their preparatory airstrikes which took place before today’s operation,” contributed to Tuesday’s advance, al-Ahmadi added.
The Saudi-led coalition has been targeting the Iran-allied Houthis since March in a bid to stop their power grab across Yemen. It also carried out airstrikes in the capital, Sanaa, on Tuesday.
The strikes came despite a U.N.-brokered truce — now in its fourth day — between the rebels and the country’s internationally-backed government in exile and its allies.
Meanwhile, the United Nations said Tuesday that at least 142 civilians have been killed in Yemen over the past 10 days, bringing the civilian death toll in more than three months of violence to 1,670.
Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. human rights office, said in Geneva that along with the 142 civilians killed between July 3 and Monday, another 224 civilians were injured in Yemen. That included a total of 76 deaths and 38 injuries in a pair of airstrikes on markets on July 6.
The latest numbers bring the total killed in Yemen since March 26 to 1,670, while 3,829 civilians have been injured, Colville said.
Fuel shortages in Yemen, due to the siege by the Saudi-led coalition that limits imports as well as the ongoing ground fighting, could lead to an even higher death toll, the international aid group Oxfam warned Tuesday. Water pumps will fail to work without fuel, leaving 80 percent of Yemen’s population of 20 million without a source for clean water, the agency said.
Separately, the U.N. refugee agency said that some 10,500 illegal migrants have arrived in Yemen by sea since March 26 — bringing to over 37,000 the total so far this year, among them Ethiopians, Somalis and others. Many have been tricked into making the crossing by smugglers who told them the conflict in Yemen is over, UNHCR said.
The agency added that nearly 1.27 million Yemenis are now displaced within their own country, while more than 51,000 people have fled Yemen for Djibouti, Somalia, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.