Saudi shells hit an international aid office in Yemen on Thursday killing five Ethiopian refugees, a Yemeni official said, while efforts continued to mount peace talks between exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi's government and Houthi rebels.
The official said that 10 other refugees were wounded when artillery fire and air strikes hit the town of Maydee, along Yemen's border with Saudi Arabia in Hajja province. The town is a stronghold of the Iran-allied Houthi group that a Saudi-led Arab alliance has been bombing for eight weeks.
Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri said there was no coalition activity in the area. "If the report is correct, it would be the responsibility of the Houthis, who have a big presence in the area," Asseri told Reuters.
The reported strike on the humanitarian aid office was a literal and symbolic reminder of the general devastation that the two-month old campaign has wrought on Yemen’s people, leading international organizations and NGOs to see the conflict has a humanitarian crisis.
As of Tuesday, the United Nations estimated that the fighting had claimed 1,849 lives, wounding another 7,394.
After a five-day cease-fire last week that expired on Sunday, in which humanitarian organizations delivered much needed aid to a country that’s been under military blockade since the start of the Saudi-led campaign, the U.N. found conditions starker than anticipated.
“What we found were traumatized populations — people afraid, upset, and struggling to meet their basic needs," Adrian Edwards, a UNHCR spokesmen, told Voice of America on Wednesday.
The U.N. estimates the number of Yemenis displaced by the fighting is at over half a million people.
Saudi forces and Houthi rebels exchanged heavy artillery and rocket fire, and air strikes hit Houthi positions inside Yemen on Thursday — violence that may complicate plans for U.N.-backed peace talks set for May 28 in Geneva.
The Saudi-Yemen frontier has in some cases become a frontline between the two sides. The Houthis' Al Masira TV channel broadcast footage on Wednesday it said showed its fighters entering a Saudi border post after being fired on by Saudi tanks and helicopters.
"(Saudi) military hardware was deployed, but after a few moments they vanished, fleeing the Yemeni advance attacking them," the channel said.
There was no immediate Saudi confirmation.
Tribal sources along the Saudi-Yemeni border said that more than 15 Houthi fighters and at least one Saudi officer were killed in intense clashes on Wednesday.
Residents and local fighters opposing the Houthis said air strikes hit a southern air base controlled by the militia and their positions outside the southern city of Aden on Thursday.
Tribal and militia fighters in Yemen's south support the Arab campaign and back president Hadi, who for the entirety of the war has been living in Saudi Arabia.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday announced talks between the warring Yemeni parties in Geneva on May 28, and both Hadi's government and the Houthis have indicated they will attend.
An Iranian-aid ship bound for the Houthi-controlled Red Sea port of Hodaida in Yemen appeared to be headed to Djibouti for inspection on Thursday, ship-tracking data showed.
Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said the ship would submit to U.N. inspections in the Horn of Africa country, avoiding a potential regional showdown between Riyadh and Tehran, who are at odds over the war in Yemen, as well as bitter adversaries elsewhere in the region.
Al Jazeera and Reuters