Fierce clashes between Houthi fighters and supporters of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi have rocked the coastal city of Aden, a week into Saudi-led air strikes on Yemen.
“Terrified residents have been fleeing from neighbourhood to neighbourhood since 3am local time,” Bashraheel Hesham, a local journalist, told Al Jazeera on Thursday after fighting spread across the city. “A lot of dead bodies are still spread around the streets as it is not safe to go out to clear them.”
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He said the bombardment was still ongoing late at night in the Malla district where machineguns, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and other military hardware were being used.
Earlier in the day, Houthis seized the central district of Crater, including a presidential residence, witnesses and Houthi-run media outlets reported.
Hadi established a temporary capital in Aden after fleeing from house arrest at the hands of the Houthis in Sanaa. He left Aden under Saudi protection a week ago, as rebels made a push on the city.
Call for safe zones
Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyadh Yaseen, speaking to Al Jazeera from the Saudi capital, called for “safe zones inside Aden for immediate aid drops in response to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the city”.
“Urgent medical care is needed for civilians in the city,” he said.
A Saudi-led Arab coalition has bombarded rebel positions across the country since March 26. Dozens of civilians have been reported killed in the strikes, and the consequences of the war are being felt by many more.
Residents in Aden had no access to power and water supplies after 10am local time on Thursday, Hesham said.
“Phone lines have been cut off and internet disconnected. We are basically in the Middle Ages,” he said.
Aden also faced food shortages as shops were forced to shut down.
Saudi-led air strikes against Houthis have also led to a virtual lockdown of the capital Sanaa, with residents fleeing for safety and many businesses shutting down.
Shopkeeper Rassam Ali told Al Jazeera that every day is a battle for survival for residents as the war rages on.
“There are very few people left here. Everyone has fled, and those who have stayed live alone without their families. So hardly anyone comes to buy anything anymore,” Ali said.
“Now I’m lucky if I make $20 a day. How can I pay my rent or even my electricity bills? If the situation stays like this then I’m sure I’ll be out of business within days.”
While no food shortages have been reported in the city so far, petrol is scarce, with long lines forming at petrol stations.
Ahmed Shammakh, a Yemeni economist, said that the conflict is plunging the country – already one of the poorest in the Middle East – deeper into poverty.
“There’s no doubt that this war has gravely affected Yemenis,” Shammakh said. “Even though food and other products are available, the average Yemeni can no longer afford to buy most things. Add to that the fact that many families are now displaced. It’s making poverty and unemployment rise drastically.”
In Yemen, almost one million children under the age of five are malnourished and the World Food Programme says about 13 million Yemenis depend on polluted or dirty water for drinking.
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch, an international rights group, called on all sides in Yemen’s conflict to avoid harming civilians, after air strikes hit a displaced persons’ camp in northern Yemen on March 30. The attack killed at least 29 civilians.
“The deaths of so many civilians in a camp with no apparent military target heightens concerns about laws-of-war violations,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “All sides in Yemen’s conflict need to do what they can to avoid harming civilians.”