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More than 20 people were killed
and more than 50 got wounded in an attack on Aden’s airport as members of the country’s newly formed power-sharing unity government of the Southern Transitional Council and the legitimacy arrived from Saudi Arabia’s capital on Wednesday, in which blasts tore through Aden airport as a plane carrying the country’s new government arrived at the capital Aden.
The explosions struck the airport and gunfire broke out as people gathered on the nearby tarmac to witness the arrival of Yemen’s prime minister and newly appointed cabinet members as they disembarked from a plane after being sworn in earlier this week in Riyadh.
Cabinet members were swept into vehicles and delivered to Aden’s Mashiq Palace, as no members of the government were reported to have been hurt, according to an official the airport attack have been caused by a missiles targeted the new government its officials.
As smoke billowed out of the airport terminal from an initial blast, with debris strewn across the area and people rushing to tend to the wounded, a second explosion took place.
Officials at the scene said they saw bodies lying on the tarmac and elsewhere at the airport.
It is unclear what caused the explosions although footage of the moment appeared to show a projectile hitting an area that had until moments before been crowded with spectators.
Sporadic gunfire was heard soon after.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it was preparing a “mass casualty medical response plan”.
The attack was condemned by regional and world leaders who called it “cowardly”.
“For now we can confirm that 22 people have been killed and between 60 to 70 people were injured in the blasts,” Yemen’s government spokesman, Rajeh Badi, said. The government spokesman said all Cabinet ministers are safe, the government members were rushed to Mashiq Palace in Aden city after the attack but hours later more explosions were heard near the area. It appears that those killed at the airport were mainly civilians and airport staff, Badi said.
The Saudi-led Coalition, fighting in Yemen to support the internationally recognised government, said later on Wednesday, it intercepted and destroyed a bomb-laden aerial drone, launched by the Houthis in an attack on the palace. It said this “confirms the Houthi responsibility” behind the airport attack.
The International Committee for the Red Cross said one of its workers was killed and three wounded. Two more were still unaccounted for. “Our staff were transiting through the airport with other civilians. This is a tragic day for us and the people of Yemen,” the ICRC tweeted. “We are profoundly saddened that one of our colleagues was killed in Aden’s airport explosion. Two others are unaccounted for and three were injured. Our staff were transiting through the airport with other civilians. This is a tragic day for us and the people of Yemen.— ICRC Yemen “
Yemeni Communications Minister Naguib Al Awg, who was on the plane, told AP he heard two explosions, suggesting they were drone attacks.
“It would have been a disaster if the plane was bombed,” Mr. Al Awg said.
He insisted the plane was the target of the attack because it was supposed to land earlier.
Yemen’s internationally recognised government and the Southern Transitional Council formed a power-sharing Cabinet on December 18, and arrived in the southern city of Aden just days after being sworn in Saudi Arabia.
Shortly after the airport attack, the Prime Minister Mr. Maeen Saeed said it was part of the war being waged against the Yemeni state.
“This will only push us to fulfil our duties until the coup is over and stability is secured,” he tweeted, referring to the Iran-backed Houthi rebels who took over the capital Sanaa.
Yemen’s Information Minister, Muammar Al Eryani, also held the Houthi rebels responsible.
“The cowardly terrorist attack by the Iran-backed Houthi militia on Aden airport will not deter us from our duty and our life is not more valuable than other Yemenis,” Mr Al Eryani tweeted.
“May Allah have mercy on the souls of martyrs and I wish fast recovery for those injured.”
Yemeni President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi said the “forces of good and sincere intentions will triumph over evil”.
He ordered the formation of a committee to investigate the attack.
“These acts will not deter the government from continuing its duties,” Mr. Hadi said.
Foreign Minister Ahmed bin Mubarak said: “God save Aden from evil.”
The UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, condemned the attack.
“I wish the Cabinet strength in facing the difficult tasks ahead,” Mr. Griffiths said.
“This unacceptable act of violence is a tragic reminder of the importance of bringing Yemen urgently back on the path towards peace.”
The UAE and Saudi Arabia strongly condemned the attacks.
Dr. Anwar Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said the attack on the airport failed to sabotage “the peace project led by Saudi Arabia for the good of Yemen and the region”.
The Saudi ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed Al Jaber, said the attack was a “cowardly terrorist act targeting the Yemeni people, their security and stability”.
Egypt, Jordan and the Arab League also condemned the attacks.
The British ambassador to Yemen, Michael Aron, said the blasts were, “a despicable attempt to cause carnage and chaos and bring suffering when Yemenis had chosen to move forward together”.
James Cleverly, Minister for the Middle East and North Africa in UK, has issued a statement condemning the attacks in Aden in a statement saying:
“I am appalled by today’s attacks in Aden following the arrival of the new Yemeni Government. This government leads a country facing horrendous humanitarian crisis, economic turmoil and ongoing conflict alongside the coronavirus pandemic.
“It has the UK’s full support and I strongly condemn today’s heinous acts, which have left innocent people dead and many more injured. My thoughts and sincere condolences are with all those affected.”
The European Union issued a statement after the attack as follows:
” The European Union strongly condemns the attack on Aden airport right after the ministers of the new, broad-based government had landed. This is an unacceptable act of violence that comes at a key moment of the implementation of the Riyadh agreement towards a comprehensive political solution. The European Union expresses its sincere condolences to the families of the victims and wishes swift recovery to the injured. The EU reaffirms its conviction that there can be only a political solution to the conflict in Yemen. The EU remains firmly committed to the sovereignty, independence, stability and territorial integrity of Yemen and will continue supporting efforts towards a peaceful solution.
The attack on the airport should not deter the parties to the conflict to engage constructively with the United Nations Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, towards a nationwide ceasefire and the resumption of political talks. The EU joins his wish of strength to the newly formed unity government for the challenging tasks ahead.”
The power-sharing deal is part of the Riyadh Agreement brokered by Saudi Arabia last year to end disputes between the Southern Transitional Council (STC) and its allies in the Yemeni government.
The formation of the 4-member Cabinet, which was sworn in on Saturday by Mr. Hadi, forges a joint front against the Iran-backed insurgents who have seized much of the north.
Mr. Hadi has lived in the Saudi Arabian capital since Sanaa fell to the Houthis in 2014.
The following year, the Saudi-led coalition intervened at the request of the government.
The newly formed cabinet unites the government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi with Southern Transition Council (STC) members based on the Riyadh Agreement. 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.
Saudi state television Ekhbaria showed destroyed vehicles and smashed glass. Plumes of white smoke rose from the scene.
The southern port city of Aden has been mired in violence because of a rift between the STC and Hadi’s government.
The Saudi-led coalition announced earlier this month the new power-sharing cabinet that would include the STC.
The cabinet landed from Riyadh where both parties negotiated for more than a year with Saudi mediation before reaching agreement.
Hadi’s Saudi-backed government was at war with with Iran-allied Houthi rebels, who control most of northern Yemen as well as the country’s capital, Sana’a.
Last year, the Houthis fired a missile at a military parade of newly graduated fighters of a hostile militia at a military base in Aden, killing dozens.