Aden, Yemen, Aug 1 – Separate attacks by Shiite rebels and a jihadist suicide bomber killed at least 49 people in Yemen’s government-held second city Aden Thursday, many of them newly trained police cadets.
The attacks were the first to hit the southern port city in more than a year and dealt a heavy blow to the government’s reorganised security forces, which have been trained and equipped by the United Arab Emirates.
Mohammed Rabid, a senior official at the health ministry, told reporters in Aden that 49 people were killed and 48 others were wounded in the two attacks.
The first attack was a suicide car bombing carried out by jihadists on a police station, a security source said.
The interior ministry said the attack in Aden’s Sheikh Othman district at around 8:00 am killed 13 police officers and wounded several others.
An AFP correspondent saw dozens of troops and police reinforcements helping the wounded outside the entrance to the police station.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) reported earlier on Twitter that 10 people had been killed in the attack and a further 16 were being treated at a hospital it runs in Aden.
The second attack was carried out by the Iran-aligned Huthi rebels, who said they launched a drone and a ballistic missile at a training camp west of Aden.
The aerial attack hit as senior commanders were overseeing a passing out parade for newly graduated cadets at Al-Jala Camp, 20 kilometres (13 miles) from the centre of Aden.
– New type of missile –
The missile struck about five metres (yards) from the viewing platform and a senior commander was among the dead, an AFP photographer reported.
The interior ministry said 36 people had been killed, including the senior commander.
The blast left a large crater and bodies strewn across the ground.
The internationally-recognised Yemeni government said Thursday the “source and purpose (of the attacks) were the same”.
“The two attacks prove the Huthi militia rebels and other terrorist groups are sharing roles and complementing each other in a war against the Yemeni people,” the government said in a statement.
Aden is controlled by the Yemeni government and its supporters in a Saudi-led military coalition, which has been fighting the rebels since 2015.
The government established its headquarters in the city after the rebels forced it out of the capital Sanaa.
The UAE is a key partner in the coalition, which has enforced an air and sea blockade of rebel-held areas and carried out a controversial bombing campaign that has exacted a heavy civilian death toll.
In recent months, the rebels have hit back with missile and drone attacks targeting neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
A Huthi rebel spokesman told AFP that Thursday’s attack was an “intelligence operation” in which “a new kind of missile that we have not unveiled was used as well as a drone that provided support in a big way.”
– Deadlock –
On the ground, the front lines have remained largely static, with the rebels still in firm control of the capital and much of the north.
Repeated UN peace efforts, including an accord reached in Sweden in December, have failed to end the fighting.
The conflict has killed and wounded tens of thousands of people and resulted in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations.
In the face of the deadlock and mounting international condemnation of the civilian toll, the UAE has drawn down its troops in recent weeks, although it has been at pains to stress that it is not preparing to withdraw.
“While we will operate differently, our military presence will remain,” UAE minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said in an op-ed published in The Washington Post late last month.
As well as supporting the fight against the rebels, the UAE has also trained government police and troops for the US-backed war against jihadists, who have long had a presence in the south and east of Yemen.
Sunni extremists of both Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have claimed multiple attacks in Aden in recent years, although the violence had largely subsided over the past 12 months.
In February last year, twin suicide bombings claimed by IS hit a base of an Aden counter-terrorism unit, killing five people, including a child.
Five months later, two people were killed when an attacker blew himself up in the city.
In January last year, Aden was rocked by deadly clashes that saw southern separatists seize much of the city from other pro-government forces.