Thousands of Yemenis — some heavily armed — took to the streets in support of the Houthi rebels fighting the Saudi-led coalition on Friday. Tens of thousands of Houthi supporters protested the Saudi-led coalition's air strikes on Yemen.
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies have carried out thousands of bombing raids in Yemen since March 2015 in a campaign to try to restore the ousted administration government of President AbdRabbuh Mansoor Hadi. The Houthis support former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was forced to step down in 2011 after ruling the country for over 30 years.
The conflict has given room for a powerful branch of Al Qaeda, known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), to expand its operations in Yemen.
Hashim Sharaf Aldin, the deputy minister of propaganda appointed by the Houthi rebels, said, "Throughout the two years of this aggression that is seeing unprecedented silence from the international community, we've seen the deterioration of the health and economic conditions because of this siege that is stopping the entry of medicine to Yemeni society.” Aldin said, “But we are resisting no matter what."
A burgeoning humanitarian crisis
Shortage of medical supplies has been evident in Yemen as UNICEF has warned that Yemen could be losing a decade's worth of gains in public health as a result of the ongoing war and economic crisis.
After two years of bombings and other attacks, no side has emerged as the dominant force in a war that has displaced more than three million people.
The conflict has left parts of the population on the edge of starvation, including half-a-million children under the age of five, according to the UN.
Yemen urgently needs assistance, especially in the north of the country where there is a threat of famine, United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O'Brien warned on March 1.
All parties to the conflict should provide immediate and safe access so that humanitarian actors can provide what is needed to stave off famine, he said.
“This will require … all parties to stop gamesmanship or efforts to support their side of the fight by producing bureaucratic impediments and delays, or doubts about inspection mechanisms so that commercial shipment can be restored and food and medicines, and crucially, fuel, so water can be pumped out of the aquifers and cereals, the main foodstuff in the remotest areas of the country, can be processed,” he explained.
Al Qaeda in Yemen
The Saudi-led coalition has focused most of its firepower against the Houthis and allied forces loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, but has also targeted some AQAP strongholds.
As part of a sustained assault on Al Qaeda, US warplanes launched more than 30 air strikes in Yemen in the past two days, a Pentagon spokesman said on Friday.
Navy Captain Jeff Davis told reporters US air strikes targeted members of the group as well as their facilities, equipment, fighting positions and heavy weapons such as artillery.
The number of AQAP members has grown and is estimated to be about 2,000, a senior US official said.
The group has light anti-aircraft weapons and possibly shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, the official said on condition of anonymity. Throughout years of fighting, the group captured many weapons from the Yemeni government.
Davis said the US is undertaking a sustained campaign in areas of Yemen where AQAP remains active.
He said no US ground troops have been involved in firefights there since the late-January special operations raid that resulted in the death of Navy SEAL Senior Chief William "Ryan" Owens.