x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Explosions damage four Yemeni fighter jets at Sanaa airport

Assailants reportedly plant explosive devices on Yemeni government fighter jets loaded with ammunition in preparation for a combat mission.

SANAA // Explosions that damaged four Yemen military aircraft and temporarily closed Sanaa's airport is under investigation, a military official said yesterday.

"I can confirm the blast inside the base did not occur by any shelling. We are still investigating the reasons behind the blast," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to media.

Another military official, who also requested anonymity, said the blast on Sunday night inside the military base could be a signal of division in the air force led by Mohammed Saleh Al Ahmar, the half brother of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Mr Saleh, in power for 33 years, has refused to heed regional and international calls to step down, and his military forces have launched a brutal crackdown on protesters that has left hundreds dead and thousands more wounded.

The blast came amid reports that Mr Saleh's forces were bringing weapons to the military base.

According to one news report, "unknown assailants" planted explosive devices on fighter jets loaded with ammunition in preparation for a combat mission. Three jets went up in flames, an aviation official told Agence-France Presse.

There was no official comment by the defence ministry on the blast and no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, in which apparently no one was hurt.

The explosion prompted authorities to close Sanaa's airport for several hours as a precaution. The airport has been temporarily shut down in the past few months due to fighting in the Arhab district, north of the capital, between Mr Saleh's forces and tribesmen supporting the revolt against his rule.

On Sunday, thousands of Yemeni youths protested at the port in Hodiedah, where opposition party media claim the rockets were brought in to arm the jets. In a statement, the protesters condemned turning the port into a gateway for arms that will be used against the people of Yemen.

Meanwhile, an Uzbek doctor kidnapped by tribesmen in eastern Yemen a week ago was released yesterday, according to tribal leaders and government officials.

Wahid Rof was abducted on October 24 by the Al Awamra tribe to pressure authorities to release one of their members in detention.

Anti-government protests have swept the country since January, triggering a political crisis that has left Yemen's economy in shambles and its government weak and fractured. The deadlock has also triggered defections among Yemen's military and tribal ranks.

malqadhi@thenational.ae

With additional reporting by Agence-France Presse