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Fighting Reignites in Yemen’s Southern Port City

Civilian Casualties Mount, Seaport and Airport Closed

People gather at the site of a car bomb attack outside the Finance Ministry offices in the southern port city of Aden, Yemen November 29, 2017.  © 2017 Reuters

On Sunday, fighting returned to Aden, Yemen’s southern port city and its temporary capital. Ground fighting was reported in densely populated areas – including near compounds of humanitarian agencies.

The clashes between forces loyal to the Southern Transitional Council—pushing for southern independence—and the government of Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi were fierce. While both sides are allied with the Saudi-led coalition in the war against the Houthis, tensions between the two forces have been mounting in the south.  

Roughly a year ago, my colleagues and I visited Aden. Then, there was no fighting in the city, but the scars of battles in 2015 remained: We met a child who lost both legs when his home was shelled, and a man who lost a leg while removing one of the many landmines laid by the Houthis in the city. We met many who, after the Houthis withdrew, had been arbitrarily detained or tortured, or had family members who had been abused or forcibly disappeared. Others told us they were frustrated by the lack of electricity, the stop and start of civil servant salaries, the feeling that real reconstruction had not begun.

We also met fearless rights activists. When we spoke to them by phone this weekend, they were worried. They had hoped the city had seen the last of fighting. Now, the future was uncertain.

By Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported that 36 people had been killed and 184 wounded. It was unclear how many were civilians. A local activist said a family home had been struck by a mortar shell, wounding three children. A Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) hospital received a family of seven. Most were wounded; the mother died. On Sunday, Aden’s seaport and airport were closed. Given Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, any disruption to ports has an acute impact on civilians. The Saudi-led coalition closed the airport in the capital, Sanaa, in 2016, and has severely restricted access to seaports under Houthi control, blocking desperately needed food and medicine.

Amidst fighting in Aden and elsewhere across Yemen, the parties to the conflict are obligated to minimize harm to civilians and ensure their access to aid. Their allies and weapons suppliers should also see to it that the laws of war are respected. Yemen’s civilians should not have to endure further atrocities.  

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