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Yemeni troops retake provinces as al-Qaeda captures port city of Mukalla

In the latest developments on the Saudi-led campaign on Yemen, troops loyal to Hadi make gains, lose Mukalla to al-Qaeda
A Yemeni supporter of the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis demonstrates in Taez on 4 April (AFP)

As the military campaign of the Saudi-led Arab coalition over Yemen edges closer to two weeks, more than 500 people have been killed and 1,700 injured, the UN said.

Three shipments of aid, as well as medical staff to Yemen, have been blocked by the coalition which controls Yemeni airspace and ports, despite appeals made by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The shipments included two planes containing 30 tonnes of medical and water sanitation supplies and a surgical team on a boat headed towards the port city of Aden.

“Our supplies are still blocked,” said ICRC spokeswoman Sitara Jabeen. “The situation is getting worse, every passing hour people are dying in Yemen and we need to bring this in urgently.”

Two Saudi border guards killed

On the border between Saudi and Yemen, two Saudi soldiers were killed on Friday, according to the Saudi Ministry of Interior.

“Two soldiers from the border guards were martyred during an exchange of fire at a border point in Asir region,” stated the ministry’s spokesman.

“They were subject to heavy fire from a mountainous region inside the Yemeni border, which made it necessary to respond in the same manner. The situation was controlled with support from the ground forces.”

The total death toll on the Saudi side is now three. On Thursday, the first Saudi soldier was shot dead in the same area from the Yemeni side of the border.

Despite 150,000 troops and 100 warplanes designated for the Yemen operation, Saudi has maintained that it does not intend to send ground forces into the neighbouring country.

Yemeni troops retake Aden

Meanwhile, rumours about former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh fleeing the country have been abundant, with at least one news agency reporting that Saleh left Yemen on Saturday aboard a Russian aircraft.

“There was information that Saleh had departed Yemen aboard a Russian plane that had arrived in Sanaa airport to evacuate [foreign] diplomats,” Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyad Yassin told the Saudi Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.

However, Yassin declined to give further details regarding where the plane is headed.

The military campaign was launched against the militant Houthi group on 25 March, which Riyadh said was based on appeals by Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi to “save the [Yemeni] people from the Houthi militias”.

The Houthis took over Sanaa in September 2014, dissolving the country's parliament, and placing Hadi and his cabinet under house arrest. Hadi managed to flee from Sanaa to Aden in February at which point clashes between Hadi loyalists and armed groups supposedly loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh, who many believe to be allied with the Houthis, began.

The Houthis overran Hadi’s presidential palace in Aden on Thursday, but after a night of heavy coalition bombardment, they were forced to withdraw to the nearby central district of Khor Maksar on Friday, said a senior official.

“The Houthi militia and their allies withdrew before dawn from the al-Maashiq palace,” said the official.

The coalition airdropped riles, ammunition and communications equipment to Hadi supporters in Aden, in what Saudi General Ahmed Assiri described as “logistical support of all kinds”.

Al-Qaeda in control of Mukalla

Yemeni troops loyal to Hadi, assisted by the coalition’s airstrikes on militants affiliated with the Houthis, have retaken the central province of Shabwah and the south-eastern province of Ad Dali.

Yet in the south-eastern Hadramawt province, the capital Mukalla became under the almost entire control of members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) on Friday, after they stormed a jail and freed 300 inmates a day earlier.

Photos surfaced of AQAP militants posing with their weapons in Mukalla’s presidential palace, as a military official said that the regional army headquarters had been captured by AQAP who were unopposed.

Several hundred al-Qaeda militants were seen flying their flag and patrolling and setting up roadblocks. They launched calls from mosques in the city calling for “jihad against Shiites,” according to residents.

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