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More than a dozen killed in airstrikes on Yemeni capital in retaliation for Houthi attack on UAE

Yemenis inspect the wreckage of buildings after they were hit by Saudi-led airstrikes in the capital, Sanaa, on Jan. 18. (Yahya Arhab/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
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SANAA, Yemen — The two airstrikes came in rapid succession just after 9 p.m. on Monday, leveling a two-story family home in the Houthi-controlled Yemeni capital soon after the group claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on the United Arab Emirates.

Inside the house in the upper-class residential neighborhood were more than a dozen relatives and employees of Brig. Gen. Abdullah Qassem al-Junaid, who once led the air force academy in Sanaa. Saudi state media outlets said Junaid was a top Houthi official, but neighbors said he had already retired from the academy.

Junaid, his wife, Enas, his son Majed and at least five other members of his household, including guards and a maid, were killed in the attack, a family member said. Several homes nearby were also damaged, and four neighbors, including a doctor, were among those killed.

The strike was described by Saudi media as a blow against the Houthi command structure after the movement’s brazen strike on the UAE earlier that day. But for many of the people in the rubble of the shattered buildings, it was just another day of lives lost in the grinding proxy war tearing the country apart and creating one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

Three killed in UAE capital in suspected drone attack claimed by Yemen rebels

The strikes, launched by the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthis, came hours after the attack on Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE.

The UAE is a partner of the coalition that has been battling the Houthis since shortly after the group took over the Yemeni capital. The suspected drone strike blew up three petroleum tanker trucks near Abu Dhabi’s port and caused a “minor fire” at the international airport, killing two Indian nationals and a Pakistani.

The retaliatory strikes on Sanaa were launched after the UAE Foreign Ministry said the attack on Abu Dhabi would “not go unpunished,” in a rare acknowledgment of a Houthi attack inside Emirati territory.

Even as the dust settled from the blasts in Sanaa, neighbors were scrambling over the rubble to find survivors. Naseer Abdulhakim al-Hebshi, 27, a childhood friend of Junaid’s son, rushed one of the family’s nephews to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He returned to the house and began digging through the rubble, where he found Junaid.

“He was dead, and his body was torn in the abdomen,” he said. “It was such a horrific scene.”

Later that night, an exhausted Hebshi returned to the hospital where he found the body of his childhood friend, Majed, and passed out from the shock.

An airstrike killed 14 people in Sanaa during strikes across the city launched by the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi, group officials said Jan. 18. (Video: Reuters)

Murad Abdo Ali, 26, a pharmacist who lives nearby, joined the rescue efforts, helping to retrieve dismembered limbs from under the rubble.

“There was fire and smoke everywhere,” he said. “We collected what body parts we could find and put them in black plastic bags.”

Mabrook Hizam Mubarak, 23, a pharmacist who at the time of the attack was visiting relatives who live behind the Junaid family’s home, heard a child crying after the first strike. He scaled the outside of the house and found “a young girl, around 3 years old with her unconscious mother and infant sister,” he said.

He helped lower the mother and infant from the second floor, then grabbed the child and jumped just moments before the second airstrike. His foot was injured in the incident.

Although the coalition regularly strikes targets inside Sanaa, Monday’s were among the deadliest to hit the city in recent years. Mutahar Almarwani, director general of the health office in Sanaa, said 14 people were killed and another 11 injured. Two are in intensive care. Several more air strikes hit Sanaa early Wednesday.

Who are the Houthis and why did they attack Abu Dhabi?

Nasraddin Amer, the deputy minister of information in Houthi-controlled Sanaa, said Monday that the attacks on Abu Dhabi were in retaliation for the UAE’s “escalation” in the conflict in Yemen, where UAE-backed forces have recently scored victories in the contested provinces of Shabwa and Marib.

Over the past year, much of the fighting in Yemen has been focused in Marib, an oil-and-gas-rich province that is the government’s last major stronghold in the country’s north. The Iranian-backed Houthis have advanced toward the city over the last year, and both sides have suffered significant casualties on the front lines, where the Houthis are also deploying drones in combat.

The Houthis have regularly launched drones and missiles at the countries of the coalition, mainly hitting targets in Saudi Arabia, including oil facilities and airports. They have called the attacks retribution for the coalition airstrikes but generally result in another round of retaliatory bombings.

The Monday attack on the Emirati capital demonstrated the group’s continued ability to strike targets in the gulf, an increasing concern for Yemen’s neighbors as the conflict drags on.

The fight for Marib has served as a major obstacle to international efforts to resolve the seven-year war. Meanwhile, a widespread humanitarian crisis is plaguing the country, with many people displaced from home and millions on the brink of starvation.

O’Grady reported from Cairo.

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