MUSCAT: US Secretary of State John Kerry held talks with officials in Oman on efforts to end Yemen’s 19-month conflict, state media in Muscat said. Kerry and Oman’s Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi discussed the “peaceful and humanitarian role played by the sultanate in Yemen,” ONA state news agency reported. Kerry is also expected to meet ruler Sultan Qaboos, in one of his last trips as secretary of state before President Barack Obama’s administration ends on January 20. The US chief diplomat has been pushing for a settlement of Yemen’s deadly conflict, which escalated with the military intervention of a Saudi-led coalition to support the government against Iran-backed Huthi rebels in March 2015.
Oman, one of the few Arab states to have good relations with Iran, has used its links to mediate peace talks between the insurgents and Yemen’s UN-recognised government of president Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi. It is also the only Arab nation in the Gulf not part of the Saudi-led coalition, although it maintains good relations with regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia. More than 7,000 people have been killed and nearly 37,000 wounded in Yemen since March 2015, and the UN says millions are in need of food aid.
Another 21 million people urgently need health services, according to the UN health agency. On Monday, 12 civilians, including a child, were killed in an air raid that targeted a convoy of three lorries in the central Ibb province, while nine rebels were killed in an ambush in the same region, military and medical sources said. Five other rebels, three soldiers and one civilian were killed Sunday in renewed violence in the southwestern Taez province, military sources said. After Oman, Kerry will travel to Abu Dhabi for talks on regional conflicts, including Syria. Meanwhile, at least 14 people were killed in central Yemen on Monday in Airstrikes on fuel trucks by the Arab coalition fighting in the country, medics and witnesses said, with the coalition saying the vehicles were carrying rebel military supplies.
The medics and witnesses said at least 11 other people were wounded in the Monday morning attack in which two tanker trucks parked on a road linking the town of Yarim in Ibb province with the provincial capital, Ibb, were hit. A medical source at Yarim hospital said the facility received the bodies of 10 people, including one soldier. The official said 15 wounded people were also brought to the hospital, some of them in serious condition. The official later said that three other people had died.
Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asseri, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, said the convoy was en route from Ibb province carrying ammunition and other supplies for Houthi and allied forces near Taiz city. The attack occurred at about 2 a.m. (2300 GMT Sunday), he said. “There is a huge network of smuggling those weapons moving around. They try to camouflage … We were tracking them and when they stopped in the area of the 55th Brigade of the Republican Guard we attacked them in the night,” he said. “It was so late at night that it was only the smugglers and the Houthi rebels around those vehicles,” he said. Asseri added it was possible the trucks were carrying fuel in addition to ammunition and weapons.
The Saudi-led coalition has been fighting Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who hold much of the north of Yemen including the capital Sanaa, since March 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognised President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power. Units of the Republican Guard are among the forces loyal to Saleh that are on the Houthi side. Taiz, Yemen’s third largest city, is one of the cities they are fighting to control. The Saudi-led coalition had been blamed for several attacks on medical centres, including some run by international aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), schools, factories and homes in the past 18 months that has killed scores of civilians. Last month, coalition Airstrikes killed more than 140 people when they struck a hall where a wake was being held in the capital Sanaa. The coalition said the attack was the result of wrong information.