UN pulls out of Yemen, ending hope for brokered peace

pro-houthi-protesters

SANAA, Yemen — With Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in its third day, the United Nations on Saturday withdrew its remaining personnel from Yemen’s capital, dashing whatever hope remained that the fighting would stop and U.N.-sponsored peace talks would resume. The UN staff, about 140 people, left in three planes bound for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Just after midnight, Jamal Benomar, the Moroccan who is the U.N.’s special envoy to Yemen, made one last effort to broker a settlement, contacting the parties to Yemen’s fighting and inviting them to join him on his flight out. All agreed except the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, whose capture of Sanaa and march toward Aden had alarmed the Saudis.

The Houthis deliberated all night, and then rejected the invitation Saturday morning. Benomar left Sanaa in mid-afternoon.

Schools, universities, shops, works, parks, and most public services in the capital have closed.

A Saudi airstrike against a Houthi-occupied military base in the Al Kamb area of the northern Yemeni province of Sadah killed more than 100 soldiers, but caused at least a dozen casualties, some fatal, among a group of internally displaced civilians who were trying to reach a nearby refugee camp, local humanitarian aid groups said.

A second strike in the town of Khamis Menbah, also in Sadah, the heartland of the Houthi movement, killed at least a dozen civilians, including three children, according to locals and humanitarian aid groups working in the area.

Airstrikes also targeted military bases loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was removed from power after an Arab Spring-inspired uprising in 2011, and a number of strongholds of the Houthis.

Residents of Aden said there were explosions in the Hadeed Mountain military zone and clashes around the airport, which has been the scene of a battle for control between supporters of the Houthis and Saleh forces and fighters allied to president Hadi.

According to head of the Aden health department, more than 61 have been killed and more than 500 injured in clashes there in recent days.

Fighting also continued in Lahj province between Houthi forces and military units loyal to the country’s internationally recognized president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. On Friday, Saudi airstrikes targeted Al-Anad air force base, once a key headquarters for U.S. military operations in Yemen but now controlled by the Houthis. U.S. troops left the base last week.

As the country headed into more chaos, Hadi appeared at the Arab League summit in Sharm al Sheikh, Egypt, to call for the Saudi intervention to continue.

Hours later, Saleh, the former president, , called on Saudi Arabia and its allies stop the bombing.

Saleh, who fought several wars against the Houthis but is now aligned with them, asked the Arab leaders to stop gambling on a “failed horse,” referring to Hadi, and adopt a plan for early elections.

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(Al-Muslimi is a McClatchy special correspondent. Roy Gutman in Istanbul contributed to this report.)

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