'Earthquake-like' explosion shakes Yemen's Sanaa

'Earthquake-like' explosion shakes Yemen's Sanaa
5 min read
20 April, 2015
Saudi-led coalition warplanes have hit a missile depot Monday in Yemen's capital, with powerful explosions shaking the city, amid warnings from Oxfam about the humanitarian situation in the country.
Smoke billows from Faj Attan Hill following an airstrike on an army arms depot [AFP]

At least 38 civilians were killed and 532 wounded in explosions that followed an airstrike by Saudi-led coalition warplanes on a missile depot in the rebel-held Yemeni capital, medics said. 

Scores of nearby houses and vehicles were destroyed after the raid on the base on Faj Attan hill, south of Sanaa, witnesses said.

The base belonged to the missile brigade of the elite Republican Guard, which remains loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh who has been accused of siding with Houthi rebels in their fight against the government.

The airstrikes caused massive explosions that shattered windows and sent residents scrambling for shelter.

The blasts deposited a layer of soot on the top floors of residential buildings and left the streets littered with glass. Anti-aircraft fire rattled across the city in response.

     Ambulances were rushing to the site of the explosions, and health authorities are calling on citizens to donate blood

Mushroom clouds rose over Faj Attan, in the mountainous outskirts of Sanaa, where the capital's largest weapons caches are located. The site has been targeted several times during the three-week air campaign.

A Yemeni official said the Saudi-led warplanes are demolishing parts of the mountain, hoping to uncover and destroy Scud missiles. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.

Some six kilometres away from Faj Attan, cars were damaged and charred, shop fronts were shattered and the windows were blown out of office buildings.

The Houthis' TV network al-Masirah said Mohammed Shamsan, a TV presenter for another network, was killed and that members of his crew were wounded.

Ambulances were rushing to the site of the explosions, and al-Masirah aired a statement by health authorities calling on citizens to donate blood.

Civilians in Yemen, who have been documenting accounts of the bombardment for weeks on social media, took to Twitter to highlight how dire the situation had become.

"How reckless is it to drop such a massive bomb on a heavily populated city?" Ammar Al-Aulaqi asked on his Twitter page.

"This war won't leave anyone safe, it will rip off the innocents before the criminals, enough bloodshed stop this war" Mazen Al-Hebshi also said.

Another civilian, Wesam Qaid said, "I carried a 70-year-old man into a hospital in Sanaa today bleeding from head to toe. Hospital had no elctricity, the man died, I dont know his name."

A video circulating around social media showed the impact of the blasts, which many compared to an earthquake.

Twitter users described the 'earthquake-like' explosion, with one calling it 'the mother of all explosions'.  

In the fourth week of the Saudi-led campaign against the rebels, warplanes hit several positions across the capital on Monday including another Republican Guard base east of Sanaa, witnesses added.

Fighting also intensified in the southern port city of Aden. Heavy fighting erupted near the airport and in the central al-Arish district between the Houthis and local armed groups formed by residents to defend their neighborhoods, witnesses said.

In a vital show of support for President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the military command of 25,000 troops in Yemen's largest province said they were standing behind the embattled leader.

"The officers, non-commissioned officers and the soldiers of the First Military Region based in Hadramawt back President Hadi, who represents constitutional legitimacy," their chief, General Abdelrahman Al-Halili, said in a statement.

The military district extends from Yemen's eastern border with Oman to the Saudi frontier to the north and includes several oil fields.

The pledge came after Yemeni authorities called last week for military commanders to show their support against the Houthi militiamen.

Oxfam condemns attack 

International aid agency Oxfam vehemently condemned the coalition airstrike on one of its storage facilities in Saada Governorate in northern Yemen.

Oxfam has been working in the northern governorate of Saada for several years, building water networks to bring clean water to 70,000 people in rural communities through the generous support of the European Union and Swiss Government.

Before the escalation in violence, 10 million people were without access to clean water across the country.

"This is an absolute outrage particularly when one considers that we have shared detailed information with the coalition on the locations of our offices and storage facilities" said Oxfam's country director in Yemen Grace Ommer.

Ommer said that the storage contained humanitarian supplies, stating that "all parties to the conflict are adding to an increasingly dire humanitarian situation on the ground" urging them to "find a negotiated peace and allow for humanitarian access."

Saudi Arabia has not yet commented on the incident, but the spokesman for its military campaign, Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, has said targets are "chosen to avoid civilian casualties" and that the "Houthis often put guns in residential areas."

Houthi vows not to surrender

Rebel leader Abdul-Malek al-Houthi vowed not to surrender Sunday amid Saudi-led airstrikes in a rambling speech that rejected UN efforts to halt violence, even as the political party of the country's former leader welcomed international efforts for a ceasefire.

"The great Yemeni people will never surrender and never be subjugated," al-Houthi said.

Al-Houthi blamed Saudi Arabia, the United States and Israel for orchestrating the campaign against his forces, the political party of Yemen's former longtime autocrat said it welcomed a UN resolution calling for a ceasefire in the country.

In a statement on its website, Saleh's General People's Congress said that it would "respond positively" to the UN Security Council resolution issued last week.

The UN resolution demands that all Yemeni parties, especially the Houthis, end violence and return swiftly to UN-led peace talks aimed at a political transition.

However, it makes no mention of the Saudi-led airstrikes targeting the rebels and pro-Saleh forces.

The United Nations has said civilians are among more than 270 people killed and nearly 3,000 wounded in Yemen between 19 March and 12 April.