At least 20 people were killed and dozens more wounded in an attack on Aden airport moments after a plane carrying the newly formed Saudi-backed cabinet landed.
Hours after the attack, a second explosion was heard around Aden’s Maasheq presidential palace where the cabinet members including Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik, as well as the Saudi ambassador to Yemen, had been taken to safely, residents and local media said.
In the airport attack, loud blasts and gunfire were heard shortly after the plane arrived from Riyadh. A local security source said three mortar shells had landed on the airport’s hall.
The source of the explosion was not immediately clear and no group claimed responsibility for attacking the airport. No one on the government plane was hurt.
Aden health official Mohamed Robeid gave the death figure and said 50 people were wounded, adding the death toll could rise. Medecins Sans Frontieres aid group said 17 people had been treated for wounds at its hospital in Aden.
The new cabinet unites the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi with southern separatists, intended to fulfil a Saudi aim of ending a feud among Riyadh’s allies.
The two groups are the main Yemeni factions in a southern-based, Saudi-backed alliance fighting against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement that controls the north, including the capital Sanaa.
The Saudi ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed al-Jaber, described the attack as a “cowardly terrorist act targeting the Yemeni people, their security and stability.”
Despite “the disappointment and confusion caused by those who create death and destruction,” the peace agreement between the government and southern separatists “will go forward,” he insisted.
Egypt, Jordan and the Arab League also condemned the attacks.
“We and the members of the government are in the temporary capital of Aden and everyone is fine,” Maeen tweeted from Maasheq palace. “The cowardly terrorist act that targeted Aden airport is part of the war that is being waged against the Yemeni state and its great people.”
“It would have been a disaster if the plane was bombed,” he said, insisting the plane was the target of the attack as it was supposed to land earlier.
The southern port city of Aden has been mired in violence because of a rift between the separatists and Hadi’s government, based there after being driven from the capital by the Houthis in 2014.
The separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), which seeks independence for south Yemen, declared self-rule in Aden in April, triggering clashes and complicating United Nations efforts to forge a permanent ceasefire in the overall conflict.
The Saudi-led coalition announced the new power-sharing cabinet this month after more than a year of intense Saudi mediation between the government and the separatists.
The Houthis denied any responsibility for the attack. The separatists said their leadership was the main target of the attackers and not the government.
UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths condemned the attack in a statement.
“I wish the cabinet strength in facing the difficult tasks ahead,” he said. “This unacceptable act of violence is a tragic reminder of the importance of bringing Yemen urgently back on the path towards peace.”
Rita Osakwe/Agency Reports