Saudi Arabia to 'scale back military operations in Yemen'

Saudi Arabia to 'scale back military operations in Yemen'
The Saudi-led coalition will ease its assault in Yemen, announced Riyadh, as the death toll from an airstrike on a market north of Sanaa nearly doubled.
3 min read
18 March, 2016
The attack on Tuesday was one of the deadliest led by the collation in Yemen[Getty]
Major military combat operations by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen will soon "come to an end", Saudi Arabia said on Thursday.

The announcement comes as the initial death toll reported from Saudi-led strikes on a market earlier this week nearly doubled, according to the UN children's agency.

The Tuesday attack was one of the deadliest since the collation forces began their intervention in Yemen in March last year, with at least 22 children among those killed.

Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners are set to scale down operations, but will continue to provide air support to Yemeni forces battling the Houthi rebels, Saudi military spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asiri said.

"The aim of the coalition is to create a strong cohesive government with a strong national army and security forces that can combat terrorism and impose law and order across the country," al-Asiri told The Associated Press

Only "small" teams of coalition troops will remain on the ground to "equip, train and advise" Yemeni forces, al-Asiri said.

The coalition's primary task will be to help build a Yemeni army, he added.

These changes will progressively lead up to a complete cease-fire and the gradual restoration of the political process in Yemen, sources told The New Arab.

Meanwhile, the White House welcomed the move.

"We have expressed our concerns about the loss of innocent life in Yemen, the violence there that is plaguing that country has caught too many innocent civilians in the crossfire," spokesman Josh Earnest said.

"We would welcome and do welcome the statement from the coalition spokesperson Saudi General Ahmed al-Asiri who indicated today that major operations in Yemen are coming to an end and that the coalition will work on 'long-term plans' to bring stability to the country," he added.

Comment: Al-Qaeda's opportunities in Yemen

Humanitarian law violations

The new death toll of those killed in Tuesday's strike on the market in Hajja almost doubled the number initially reported, said Meritxell Relano, UNICEF's deputy representative in Yemen.

The air raid on the Houthi-controlled town of Mastaba killed 119 and wounded 47 people, Relano said, as he warned the death toll could still rise further.

The attack on the market marked the second deadliest in Yemen since the Saudi-led airstrikes began, after an airstrike hit a wedding party in September, killing at least 131 people.

After the strike, the Houthis' al-Masirah TV network showed graphic footage of dead children and charred bodies next to sacks of flour and twisted metal.

The Saudi-led coalition was investigating the attack, said al-Asiri, who argued that Tuesday's airstrikes targeted a "gathering area" for Houthi fighters, located about 10 kilometres [6 miles] away from the market.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the airstrike.

"Attacks directed against civilians and civilian objects, including populated markets, are strictly prohibited," he said, urging a "prompt, effective, independent, and impartial investigations into all allegations of serious violations."

The war has left Yemen fragmented and given the al-Qaeda network a free hand to expand, seize cities and large swathes of land.

Militants from the Islamic State group have also taken advantage of the chaos to wage a series of deadly attacks across the country.

Agencies contributed to this report.