DUBAI (Reuters) - Two senior commanders from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were among dozens of Gulf, Yemeni and Sudanese soldiers killed in a rocket strike in Yemen as fighting flared before Tuesday’s peace talks, local media and Yemeni sources said.
The Tochka rocket strike on a Red Sea army camp south-west of the besieged city of Taiz early on Monday appears to be one of the bloodiest setbacks for Gulf forces in months of fighting against Iran-allied Houthi forces and Yemeni army units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Sultan Mohammed Ali al-Kitbi, an Emirati officer, was killed near Taiz, Emirati state news agency WAM reported. Saudi Press Agency SPA said Colonel Abdullah al-Sahian and Kitbi “were martyred at dawn on Monday while shouldering their duties in overseeing operations to liberate Taiz”.
Photographs of Sahian, who had been decorated by Saudi-backed Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi for bravery two days earlier, were displayed by Saudi-owned al-Hadath television channel alongside Muslim verses of mourning.
The Houthis said via their own media outlets that the two commanders were among scores killed in a rocket attack near Bab al-Mandab on the Red Sea coast.
A source in Hadi’s forces confirmed that a rocket had been fired at coalition forces in the Dhubab area, north of Bab al-Mandab and south-west of the city of Taiz, adding that “tens were killed” in a camp that houses Yemenis, Sudanese, Emiratis and Saudis.
Saudi Arabia has led an Arab coalition in a military campaign since late March to stop the Houthis, allies of Riyadh’s main regional foe Iran, from taking complete control of Yemen after they seized the capital Sanaa last year and advanced south towards the port city of Aden.
The Saudi-led campaign has retaken Aden and the city of Marib, east of Sanaa, but has failed to oust the Houthis from Taiz or end attacks on the Saudi border that have killed scores of the kingdom’s soldiers.
Monday’s strike was the worst reported since more than 60 Saudi and Emirati troops were killed in September when another Tochka rocket hit the al-Safer air base near Marib in northeastern Yemen.
The Houthis and Saleh’s former political party, the General People’s Congress, are sending representatives to Switzerland on Tuesday for talks with Yemen’s internationally recognised government under President Hadi.
A seven-day renewable ceasefire is scheduled to come into effect on Monday to coincide with the talks. Two previous ceasefire attempts, in May and July, were followed by accusations of breaches by both sides.
Nearly 6,000 people have been killed in the conflict, almost half of them civilians. It has also pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Lisa Barrington