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Tue 31 Mar 2015 11:59 AM

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Air strike kills at least 40 at Yemen camp for displaced

Warships fire on Houthis advancing towards Aden

Air strike kills at least 40 at Yemen camp for displaced
(Getty Images)

An air strike
killed at least 40 people at a camp for displaced people in north Yemen on
Monday, humanitarian workers said, in an attack which apparently targeted
nearby Houthi fighters who are battling President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Yemen's state
news agency Saba, which is under the control of the Houthis, said the camp at
Haradh was hit by Saudi planes. It said the dead included women and children,
and showed the bodies of five children laid out on a blood-streaked floor.

A Saudi
military spokesman said the kingdom was seeking clarification on the incident.

"It could
have been that the fighter jets replied to fire, and we cannot confirm that it
was a refugee camp," Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri said.

"We will
ask the Yemeni official agencies to confirm that," he told reporters.

Hadi's Foreign
Minister Riyadh Yassin earlier blamed Houthi artillery for the explosion.

The
International Organisation for Migration, which initially reported 45 deaths,
said 40 people were killed and 200 wounded - dozens of them severely.

A humanitarian
worker said earlier that the strike hit a truck of Houthi militiamen at the
gate to the Mazraq camp, near Haradh, killing residents, guards and fighters.

The medical aid
organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres said at least 34 wounded people were
brought to a hospital in Haradh which it supports. Another 29 were dead on
arrival.

"People in
Al Mazraq camp have been living in very harsh conditions ... and now they have
suffered the consequences of an air strike on the camp," said Pablo Marco,
MSF operational manager for Yemen.

Mazraq, in the
province of Hajja next to the Saudi border, is a cluster of camps that are home
to thousands of Yemenis displaced by over a decade of wars between the Houthis
and the Yemeni state, as well as East African migrants.

Saudi Arabia,
supported by regional Sunni Muslim allies, launched an air campaign to support
Hadi after he withdrew last month from the capital to Aden. He left Yemen on
Thursday to attend an Arab summit and has not returned.

The fighting
has brought civil war to the Arabian Peninsula's poorest country. Sunni Muslim
tribesmen allied with Hadi are battling northern Zaydi Shi'ites backed by soldiers
loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down after 2011 mass
protests against his 33 years in office.

Yemen was
already sliding into chaos with a growing southern secessionist movement and a
covert US drone campaign -- now stalled -- against al Qaeda in the east.

The growing
power of the Houthis, part of a Shi'ite minority that makes up about 20 percent
of the country's 25 million people, also means Yemen has become the latest
stage for Saudi Arabia's power struggle with Iran.

The two
regional rivals support opposing sides in Syria's civil war and in neighbouring
Lebanon. Tehran also supports and arms Shi'ite militias in Iraq, although it
denies Riyadh's accusations that it supports Yemen's Houthis militarily.

In the capital
Sanaa, controlled by the Houthis, jets struck around the presidential palace
overnight and made more raids throughout the day. Most of the air strikes,
launched on Thursday, have taken place so far only at night.

In the south,
Houthi fighters closed in on the port city of Aden, the last major stronghold
of Hadi supporters, and residents said warships believed to be Egyptian shelled
a column of Houthis advancing along the coastal road.

It was the
first known report of naval forces taking part in the conflict. A Reuters
reporter heard heavy explosions and saw a thick column of black smoke rising
from the area about 15 km northeast of Aden, apparently after air strikes.

Saudi-led war
planes also shook buildings in Aden's Khor Maksar district when they fired at
least one missile at the airport, where Houthi-allied fighters are based,
residents said. A stray shell killed at least three people on a mini-bus in the
same area, local fighters said.

A Hadi aide
told the Dubai-based al-Arabiya TV that Houthi fighters also shelled the
president's private residence in Khor Maksar killing a number of guards.

While Hadi's
fighters ceded ground around Aden, Pakistan announced it would send troops to
support the Saudi-led coalition.

"We have
already pledged full support to Saudi Arabia in its operation against rebels
and will join the coalition," a Pakistani official said.

In a cabinet
statement, Saudi King Salman said Riyadh was open to a meeting of all Yemeni
factions willing to preserve Yemen's security, under the auspices of the
six-member Gulf Cooperation Council.

The Arab
leaders agreed at their meeting in Egypt to form a unified military force to
counter growing regional security threats such as the Yemen conflict.

But working out
the logistics of the force will be a protracted process and Yemen's rugged
geography, internal power struggles and recent history all present challenges
to any military campaign.

Just four years
after the 1990 unification of North and South Yemen, civil war erupted when
southerners tried to break away, but were defeated by Saleh's northern forces.

In the 1960s,
intervention by Saudi Arabia and Egypt on opposing sides of a civil war in
North Yemen led to a long and damaging military stalemate.

Saudi Arabia
says it is focusing for now on air strikes against the Houthis, rather than a
ground campaign, promising to increase pressure on them over coming days.

On Sunday,
sources said Yemeni exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) were running as
normal despite the shutdown of major seaports. But French oil firm Total said
on Monday operations at its Block 10 had been reduced, with gas production
maintained only for local power generation and to supply nearby areas.

Several
countries have evacuated citizens from Yemen in recent days. About 500
Pakistani nationals were flown out of the Red Sea port of Hodeida on Sunday,
and India said on Monday it was preparing to fly out 500 people from Sanaa.

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