Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 June 2019

Yemen's Houthis are turning Sanaa airport into a military base

Arab coalition says rebels are storing ballistic missiles in the country's northern provinces

Colonel Turki Al Maliki, spokesman for the Arab coalition, addresses a news conference in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, 16 April 2018. EPA
Colonel Turki Al Maliki, spokesman for the Arab coalition, addresses a news conference in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, 16 April 2018. EPA

Yemen’s Houthi rebels are using Sanaa airport as a military base and are storing ballistic missiles in the northern provinces of Saada and Omran, the Arab coalition said on Monday.

The airport has been controlled by the rebels who have battled the internationally recognised government for nearly four years after they overran the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.

“The coalition has targeted an air defense system set up by the Houthi militia at Sanaa airport,” Colonel Turki Al Maliki, spokesman for the Arab Coalition, said during a weekly press conference.

During the UN-brokered peace talks in Sweden the government proposed reopening the airport to domestic flights and that airplanes must stop in the southern city of Aden or eastern city of Sayun for inspection.

But the Houthis rejected the request.

The government has accused the Houthis of smuggling arms from Iran through Sanaa airport and Yemen's many ports.

"The Houthis are continuing to violate the UN-brokered deal that was reached in December," Colonel Al Maliki said.

He also stressed that the rebels are storing ballistic missiles in the northern provinces of Saada and Omran that are being used to target Saudi Arabia.

“The Houthis have so far launched 219 rockets towards the Kingdom’s territory,” he said.

Colonel Al Maliki reiterated the Arab coalition commitment to supporting Yemen’s internationally recognised government and restoring peace and security in Yemen.

The development comes as a Houthi representative critiqued Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt for siding with the government in its four-year war against the rebels.

The British diplomat warned during a trip to Yemen that the Swedish deal could “be dead” within weeks if no commitment is shown by the two sides.

Yemen’s government along with the Houthis agreed in Sweden to a ceasefire in Hodeidah to be followed by a redeployment of forces out of the port city which is currently under Houthi control.

They also agreed on a prisoner exchange.

Mr Hunt said that “Hodeidah was supposed to be cleared of militias and left under neutral control since the beginning of January.”

But both deal have yet to take place.

Rebel spokesman, Mohammed Abdul Salam, said the deal never mentioned handing Hodeidah to a neutral party.

He said it stipulated that after the warring sides withdraw, Hodeidah would be patrolled by an unspecified "local force" with UN observers.

The United Nations said last month that both parties had agreed on the first stage of a mutual pullout of forces from Hodeidah. But no progress has been made.

The conflict in Yemen has killed tens of thousands of people and have pushed millions to the brink of starvation.

Updated: March 5, 2019 01:14 PM

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