Fighting between Shiite Houthi rebels and Sunni government troops has intensified in Yemen's second-largest city, Aden. The clashes have left more than 140 dead in 24 hours, and civilians are paying a heavy price.
A humanitarian crisis has been unleashed by a week of fighting between the Houthis and their allies, military units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, on the one side and loyalists to self-exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi on the other.
The fierce fighting raises doubts over the possibility of landing ground forces from a Saudi-led coalition that is backing President Hadi. Saudi officials have never said publicly that the coalition intends a ground operation, but some officials in Hadi's government have called for one.
Houthi fighters and pro-Saleh forces attacked Aden's Moalla neighborhood - one of the last districts held by Hadi loyalists, where the presidential palace, port facilities, TV, government offices and a military camp are located.
Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia two weeks ago as rebels advanced on Aden. He had set up a temporary capital in the port city.
Red Cross stymied
The International Committee for the Red Cross on Monday reported being unable to deliver essential medical assistance to the capital, Sanaa, and to Aden because of the air and sea blockade by the coalition.
They also called for an immediate truce to facilitate the delivery of aid and medical supplies to treat the estimated 3,000 wounded.
Mohammed Abdo Hariri, a 50-year old resident of Aden, said he fled the city during a lull in the fighting and found the streets littered with corpses and burned-out armored vehicles.
Robert Mardini, head of Middle East operations at the International Committee of the Red Cross, described scenes of desolation and destruction in the city.
Coalition ground force invasion?
Military experts say the intense fighting makes any ground operation in Aden much more difficult, especially if the administrative center falls.
Pakistan's defense minister said on Monday that Saudi Arabia has asked Pakistan to contribute soldiers to the military campaign, as well as air and naval assets. Pakistan's parliament is debating the request and is expected to vote in the coming days.
However, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, played down any imminent coalition ground invasion in Yemen. "No options are taken off the table, but I don't think we're there yet," said al-Jubeir to journalists in Washington. "We're in the air phase."
The UN estimates that more than 500 people have been killed - many of them civilians - and thousands displaced by the fighting and the airstrikes.
av/gsw (AP, AFP, DPA)