Yemen’s besieged city of Aden has seen one of its worst days of violence yet, as Houthi fighters clashed with forces loyal to the country’s president for control of the city’s main airport.
Sources told Al Jazeera on Thursday that fighting was raging at Aden’s international airport as Popular Resistance Committees and local residents traded tank and mortar salvos with Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
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Women and children have been burnt in their homes, civilians have been shot in the streets or blown up by tank fire
The Popular Resistance Committees, which are loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, retook positions from the Houthis after warplanes from a coalition of Arab states bombed their positions.
Meanwhile, residents told the Reuters news agency that dozens of families had fled Aden, braving Houthi sniper fire and checkpoints as homes were shelled and burned.
“The scene is disastrous, not just in the streets where fighting is going on but inside houses where families are often trapped and terrified,” Ahmed al-Awgari, a local activist, told Reuters.
“Women and children have been burnt in their homes, civilians have been shot in the streets or blown up by tank fire,” he added.
In the busy district of Crater, at least eight Houthis were killed and another 13 injured, as air strikes pushed back the fighters.
Warplanes also hit rebel targets in the central city of Taiz, with coalition jets striking the 22nd Republican Guard, a military unit which is allied to the Houthis.
However, videos obtained by Al Jazeera purported to show smoke billowing from residential districts in Taiz’s city centre.
Coalition air strikes also targeted Houthis in the southern provinces of Lahj and Abyan, according to pro-government fighters.
Meanwhile, three Saudi soldiers were killed in Najran, on the Saudi side of the border, on Thursday, the kingdom’s defence ministry said, bringing the number of Saudi casualties in the campaign to 14.
The ministry added that dozens of Houthis were killed by coalition air strikes in recent days.
GCC rejects Iran plan
In a separate development, ministers from six Sunni Arab Gulf monarchies met in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Thursday and rejected Iran’s requests that talks between Yemen’s rival political forces be held on neutral ground.
Tehran proposed holding UN talks between Yemen’s political factions at a neutral venue, excluding all countries taking part in the military campaign.
But in a statement after the talks, the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) said it would “hold a conference under the umbrella of the GCC secretariat in Riyadh”.
The conference would be attended by “all Yemeni parties and components supporting legitimacy as well as Yemen’s security and stability,” GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif al-Zayani said.
All GCC members except Oman are taking part in the coalition raids.
The Arab coalition began air strikes on Yemen on March 26 with aim to pushing back the Houthis and restoring the authority of President Hadi.
The Houthis have refused to withdraw from territory they seized, in defiance of a UN Security Council resolution imposing an arms embargo and sanctions on their leaders.