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Civilians Condemn Airstrikes For Creating Humanitarian Crisis In Yemen


Saudi-led airstrikes continued today in Yemen; this a day after Saudi Arabia announced it was scaling back the bombing campaign. The strikes are targeting Houthi rebels who control Yemen's capital. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia say the rebels are backed by Iran. Hundreds of civilians have been killed both by the airstrikes and in ground fighting between warring factions. NPR's Alice Fordham has been talking with Yemenis around the country about living through the violence.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: People in Yemen's capital, Sana'a, will remember forever the airstrike Monday that ripped a hole in one of the mountains that surrounds the ancient city.


FORDHAM: After more than three weeks of airstrikes, they were almost used to intermittent bangs. A group called News of the Yemeni Revolution made this video on that day.


FORDHAM: But then the warplanes hit what's thought to be a huge weapons cache and houses shook violently from the explosion. Calling into people in the capital, they describe an explosion that destroyed buildings miles away. Faizah al-Sulimani was at work at a development agency.

FAIZAH AL-SULIMANI: I just saw all the glasses crash, and then the doors was destroyed totally, and many people were screaming and shouting.

FORDHAM: She was covered in bruises but tried to be strong. She evacuated her colleagues and began a gruesome walk home.

SULIMANI: I was shocked when I saw dead people and many injured in the street.

FORDHAM: One friend was dead, others were homeless. Her five children were screaming in terror. The interior ministry says 84 civilians died that day, likely the single deadliest of the bombing campaign. Like many Yemenis, Sulimani says the Saudi-led operations there have caused only suffering; and not just deaths and injuries, supply lines are also cut.

SULIMANI: Can you imagine we are without electricity for nine days? We are without gas for more than 20 days. We are without water for more than 10 days. There is a shortage in food in everywhere.

FORDHAM: Her kids are hungry, thirsty and traumatized. And although the skies of Sana'a are now quiet, Sulimani says she spoke to family elsewhere who reported more airstrikes. Though Saudi Arabia said the operation was over, it also said warplanes would keep striking Houthis actually fighting. In the central city of Taizz, a cafe owner named Sadeq al Maqtari said that happened this morning.

SADEQ AL MAQTARI: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: He says, "today the strikes resumed - one at dawn, one later in the morning - after Houthis took an army base." I ask Maqtari about Saudi Arabia's claim they have eliminated the possibility Houthis will take over Yemen.

MAQTARI: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: He says it's partly true. "The strikes hit some of their heavy weapons, but the Houthis are dispersed through the city and have other groups allied with them. You can't kill all of them and there's widespread fighting between different factions that's heaviest perhaps around the southern city of Aden."

A university professor, Nishwan Othman, says the Houthi rebels have been fighting with heavy weapons in populated areas.

NISHWAN OTHMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: "And even if the Houthis are driven out," he says, "more struggle will follow between contending factions."

Saudi Arabia's new operation calls for progress toward a political solution, but for the moment that seems far off. Alice Fordham, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.