A Houthi fighter walks on a vehicle damaged by an airstrike in a residential area near Sanaa Airport March 26, 2015.Reuters/Khaled Abdullah
As Saudi Arabia-led airstrikes pounded Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen for a fourth day, the exodus of foreign diplomats and workers in the war-torn country gained speed. Eyewitnesses told Reuters that a Chinese warship docked Sunday in the southern port city of Aden to enable the evacuation of its nationals. India obtained permission from the embattled Yemeni government to begin daily airlifts during a three-hour window. And Pakistan started using Pakistan International Airlines 747 jumbo jets to get its people out, a defense official said Sunday.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters Sunday there are about 500 Chinese nationals still in Yemen and that his country was preparing to get its diplomats and workers out.
Wang’s counterpart in India said her country had started similar procedures. “Today we got permission to fly from Sanaa for three hours a day. We will use the slot for evacuating our citizens every day,” External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told the Press Trust of India. The Air India flights will depart the Yemeni capital as soon as officials work out the flight plans. Swaraj said India is also sending two warships to the region to rescue its people. There are about 3,500 Indian guest workers in Yemen who mostly serve as nurses. Saturday, about 80 Indian nationals fled to nearby Djibouti where they were planning flights back home.
Also Saturday, the United Nations and Saudi Arabia pulled out their officials, as the Arab League, consisting of 22 member states, pledged to continue fighting in Yemen to dislodge the Houthi Shiite rebels that have taken over large parts of the country.
Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed bin Hasan Asiri told the state-run Saudi Press Agency Sunday the air campaign had destroyed all jet fighters that had fallen into rebel hands and that airstrikes continue to target rebel positions. CNN reported a massive buildup of group troops in Jazan, a southern Saudi town bordering Yemen. Significantly, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have not ruled out the possibility of a ground invasion.
Casualty reports since airstrikes began Thursday have been spotty. At least 38 people were reportedly killed in clashes between rebels and pro-government tribal fighters in the oil-rich Shabwa province Sunday, according to Agence France-Presse. An additional 35 people were killed and 88 were injured in airstrikes the same day. Meanwhile, health officials said 68 people were killed and 452 injured in the first three days of fighting, Reuters reported.
“@jricole: Who Has A Stake In #Yemen Fight? – http://t.co/y8PJLVYRp0 pic.twitter.com/ctVjY1QV7f” Everyday this map changes, but still valid.
â€” Yemen Updates (@yemen_updates) March 29, 2015
With or without boots on the ground, the airstrikes are likely to continue for a while. The Arab League issued a statement pledging to continue bombardments until the rebels “withdraw and surrender their weapons,” the Associated Press reported.
Pakistan defense officials said Sunday the country would begin flights between Saudi Arabia and Yemen to rescue the hundreds of nationals who were seen on Pakistani television pleading for help from their government.
“The Saudi civil-aviation authorities had given us clearance to send our passenger planes to Yemen,” a Pakistani Defense Ministry official told Reuters. At least 600 Pakistanis were relocated to western port city of Hudeidah to prepare for their departures. About 3,000 Pakistanis are still in Yemen, according to Geo.tv. The first PIA flight from Karachi landed in Hudeidah Sunday afternoon.