A major government hospital was evacuated Sunday and schoolchildren fled their exam hall as the Saudi-led military coalition carried out its heaviest airstrikes yet on the Yemeni capital Sana’a.
The raids, which started on Saturday, came in response to a missile strike the previous day that killed 60 coalition troops in the eastern province of Marib.
The troops have been gathering in Marib in preparation for operations against the Houthi rebels and allied military units who control the capital.
Saudi Arabia and Gulf allies have been backing exiled President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi, fearing that the expansion of the mainly Shiite Houthis will give their regional rival Iran a foothold in the Arabian Peninsula.
Further Saudi reinforcements arrived in the province on Sunday, sources in local forces loyal to Hadi said.
The reinforcements were split between two bases where coalition troops have been providing intensive training to pro-Hadi fighters and loyalist Yemeni troops, the sources, who declined to be named, said.
The Houthi-controlled Yemeni army command on Saturday warned members of the armed forces in Marib and elsewhere to stay away from coalition troops, saying that they were “legitimate military targets.”
In the capital, Health Ministry and ambulance officials said the Sabaeen Hospital was shut down after suffering damage in an airstrike that hit a nearby military base.
Its patients were transferred to other hospitals, the officials said.
Pupils taking exams in a school in the area meanwhile fled their exam hall after it was rocked by nearby explosions. Yemeni pupils are currently sitting their primary certificate exams.
Health Ministry officials said the civilian death toll in the airstrikes stood at 27 on Saturday night and was expected to rise.
The capital has been rocked by dozens of airstrikes since Friday’s missile strike in Marib, which took the lives of 45 Emirati soldiers as well as 10 Saudis and five Bahrainis.
The losses were the highest the coalition has suffered since it launched its campaign against the Houthis in March, and the highest in the history of the Emirati armed forces.
They were also the first time that the Gulf countries backing Hadi admitted to the extent of their involvement on the ground backing up the loose alliance of local militias, Sunni Islamists and southern Yemeni separatists who have been taking on the Houthis.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch accused the Houthis of planting anti-personnel landmines in the southern city of Aden before they withdrew from it in July.
The mines, banned under a 1997 treaty signed by Yemen, had killed at least 11 people and wounded more than 12 in Aden since August, HRW said quoting Yemeni mine clearance officials and media reports.
UN agencies say that over 4,500 people have been killed in Yemen since fighting intensified in March, including close to 400 children.
The World Food Programme has warned that the country, one of the poorest in the Arab world even before fighting flared up, is now on the brink of famine.