Yemeni Health Ministry raises death toll in Sanaa airstrikes 36 police commandos killed


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SANAA, Yemen — Successive airstrikes by Saudi-led coalition jets on Wednesday pounded a police commando headquarters in central Sanaa, killing at least 36 people and sending plumes of black smoke billowing across the capital.

The attacks were part a military campaign by Saudi Arabia and its allies which started on March 26. They have been targeting Shiite rebels also known as Houthis that are allied to the forces of ousted President Ali Abdullah. The violence since then, including airstrikes, has killed at least 2,000 people, according to a report released Wednesday by the by World Health Organization.

While warplanes targeted rebel forces across the country on Wednesday, the Sanaa attack was particularity destructive. The site occupies an area the size of two football stadiums and is located in the center of the city close to the presidential palace. An Associated Press reporter saw at least 15 ambulances rushing to the scene in a period of 30 minutes and thick black smoke covering the whole area, obstructing visibility.

According to security officials a few hundred police were at the site waiting to receive arms and ammunition before heading south to battle forces loyal to internationally-recognized President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who has fled to Saudi.

The Houthi-controlled Health Ministry said in a statement that at least 36 members of the security forces were killed and at least 100 were wounded. The main Houthi television gave a similar death toll and said it was expected to rise.

Three soldiers inside the camp told the AP that in addition to special forces present during the attack, there were also numerous Houthi militiamen — many of them wearing traditional Yemeni clothes. When the jets struck, some people were lined up to receive weapons while others rested on the grass under small trees in the vast garden.

The bombs and missiles brought down at least three buildings inside the compound, damaged six armored vehicles, and set fire across the camp. They also hit weapon depots inside the camp, causing a series of secondary explosions that residents said continued for nearly an hour.

The three men, along with security officials, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Blocks away, administrative buildings — including the empty Saudi embassy — and shops suffered damage, with metal shutters twisted off their frames, windows broken and doors blown off their hinges. Streets were littered with shattered glass, toppled street lights and overturned cars. Shops were closed and city streets were deserted.

Witnesses say planes also bombed a naval base in western Hodeida controlled by the Houthis. Saudi and allied jets also bombed the northern Houthi strongholds of Saada and Hajjah.

In a new report Wednesday, World Health Organization Chief Margaret Chan said that Yemen's conflict has left up to 2,000 people dead and 8,000 wounded, including hundreds of women and children, over the past 10 weeks. She did not specify how many of the dead were civilian.

Most recent U.N. estimates said that at least 1,037 civilians, including 130 women and 234 children, have been killed in the fighting.

Chan also said that the killings sometimes included whole families, giving the example of a 65-year-old woman named Fathiya who lost 13 members of her family in an attack that left her the only guardian of three surviving grandchildren.

There is a shortage of fuel, water, fuel and medical supplies, in addition to destroyed f health facilities, and 7.5 million people are in urgent need of medical help.

Earlier this week, international humanitarian group Oxfam warned that some 16 million people in Yemen don't have access to clean water. Half a million people have been displaced across the country.

The campaign of airstrikes has devastated rebel positions, ammunition depots and bases, but it has largely failed to pave the way for the recapture of the strategic southern city of Aden, which Hadi declared the country's temporarily capital before fleeing to Saudi.

Hadi's allied southern fighters managed on Tuesday to recapture the strategic city of Dhale, located near Aden.

On Wednesday, residents said that communications were down, except for landlines, and that fighting intensified on the city outskirts of the city between militias supporting Hadi and forces loyal to the Houthis and Saleh.

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