At least 26 people were killed Wednesday as explosions rocked Yemen’s Aden airport moments after a new unity government flew in, in what some officials charged was a “cowardly” attack by Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
“Dozens” more people were wounded, a medical source told AFP, although all government ministers were reported to be unharmed.
Plumes of smoke billowed from the airport building in the southern city as debris lay strewn across the area, with people rushing to tend to the wounded, footage broadcast by Saudi television channel Al-Hadath showed.
— ا لـ حـ ـد ث (@AlHadath) December 30, 2020
“At least two explosions were heard as the cabinet members were leaving the aircraft,” an AFP correspondent at the scene said.
Crowds who had gathered on the airport apron waiting to greet the new government fled, terrified.
Sporadic gunfire was heard soon after.
It was not immediately clear what had caused the explosions.
Yemen’s internationally recognized government and southern separatists formed a power-sharing cabinet on December 18, forging a joint front against the Houthi rebels who have seized the capital Sanaa and much of the north.
Yemeni Information Minister Moammar Al-Eryani said that all the members of the government were safe.
“We assure our great people that members of the government are fine, and we assure you that the cowardly terrorist attack by the Iran-supported Houthi militia will not deter us from carrying out our patriotic duty,” he said on Twitter.
The cabinet members arrived in Aden days after being sworn in by Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi in Saudi Arabia, which leads a military coalition against the insurgents.
Hadi fled to the Saudi-capital Riyadh after Sanaa fell to the Houthis in 2014.
Tens of thousands, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced in Yemen’s grinding five-year war, which has triggered what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.
The new government includes ministers loyal to Hadi and supporters of the secessionist Southern Transitional Council (STC), as well as other parties.
Prime Minister Main Said has retained his position in the new government, while changes have taken place in several ministries, including the foreign ministry.
While all oppose Houthi rebels, deep divisions have grown between the forces, and the Riyadh-sponsored push to form the unity government was designed to mend rifts.
Saudi Arabia has been encouraging the unity government to quell the “war within a civil war” and to bolster the coalition against the Houthis, who are poised to seize the key town of Marib, the last government stronghold in the north.
In recent months, the rebels have stepped up attacks on Saudi Arabia — including its critical oil infrastructure — in retaliation for the Riyadh-led military campaign.
Yemen also still hosts a significant jihadist presence, including Al-Qaeda and militants loyal to the Islamic State group, despite two decades of air and drone strikes by the United States.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which the US considers the terror group’s most dangerous branch, has thrived in the chaos of Yemen’s civil war between pro-government forces and the Houthi rebels.
It has carried out operations against both the Houthis and government forces.
The unity government formation comes a month before the inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden, who was critical of Saudi Arabia during his campaign amid the humanitarian disaster in Yemen since Riyadh’s intervention in the conflict in 2015.