SANAA, Yemen (AFP) — Dozens of civilians were reported dead Wednesday after a dairy plant was bombed in Yemen, as aid groups warned of a brewing humanitarian crisis from the Saudi-led coalition’s strikes on Shiite rebels.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin called for the coalition to send in ground troops, saying that, “at some stage, airstrikes will be ineffective.”
Rights groups have voiced growing alarm about civilian casualties from the nearly week-old air war aimed at preventing the fall of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
At least 37 workers were killed and 80 wounded overnight at the dairy in the port of Hodeida, provincial Governor Hasan al-Hai said, without specifying whether the factory was hit by an airstrike or rebel shelling.
The head of the provincial health authorities, Abdulrahman Jarallah, gave a toll of 35 people killed and dozens wounded.
Part of the factory was destroyed and rescue teams were looking for survivors under the rubble, according to a medic at a Hodeida hospital that received the casualties.
The circumstances of the bombing were unclear, with some witnesses saying the dairy was hit by a coalition air strike and others blaming rebel forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Assiri accused the Houthis of targeting the factory, using “mortar shells and Katyusha rockets… in a bid to create unrest among the Yemeni society.”
The coalition had bombarded rebel positions in the main southern port city Aden in a seventh night of raids that also targeted the capital and other areas.
Those strikes focused on the rebel-held provincial administration complex in Dar Saad in the city’s north, according to a military official.
He said there were “many dead and wounded” among the Houthi Shiite rebels but was unable to give a precise toll.
Egypt warns rebels
The coalition has vowed to keep targeting the Houthis and allied army units loyal to Saleh until they end their insurrection.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi urged the rebels to “back off” for the sake of their country.
“The stability of Yemen and the safety of its people hangs from your necks,” Sissi said in a televised speech to military and police officers.
Iran is accused of backing the rebels but Tehran denies providing military support.
Overnight strikes targeted rebel positions including camps of army units loyal to Saleh in the north of Aden, around Sanaa and in the central region of Ibb, residents said.
Six civilians were killed in an air raid targeting Maydi in the northwest province of Hajjah, according to medical sources.
And several Houthi positions were targeted in the northern rebel strongholds of Hajjah and Saada.
After entering the capital in September, the Houthis and their allies gradually conquered areas in the center, west and south of Yemen before bearing down on Aden last month, prompting Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia.
The embattled president had taken refuge in Aden in February after escaping house arrest in the capital.
‘Verge of collapse’
Since Friday at least 93 civilians have been killed and 364 wounded, the UN human rights office said Tuesday.
“We have reports that the hospitals are really full of dead and injured people,” spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly told AFP. “We have heard about lots of dead bodies.”
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein warned that Yemen “seems to be on the verge of total collapse.”
Foreign Minister Yassin said sending ground troops would cause “less civilian casualties” but added that the main reason he was proposing a land operation was to enable aid deliveries.
“I am suggesting to start as soon as possible,” he told AFP in Riyadh.
On Tuesday, Assiri said that “so far there is no need for land intervention” in Yemen but the need might arise “at any time.”
A Western diplomat said a land offensive would be “very, very complicated and difficult”, partly because it would have to pass mountainous terrain in the country’s north, with which the Houthi rebels are highly familiar.
The source ruled out a seaborne landing because the coalition lacks amphibious forces.
But Yassin said troops could come in from the south, around Aden, which would be relatively easy to secure and could become a safe haven for humanitarian operations.