Yemeni forces intercept rockets, drones en route to Houthis

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

Houthi forces patrol the streets ahead of the arrival of the motorcade of UN special envoy for Yemen at Sanaa International airport on January 31st. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

Houthi forces patrol the streets ahead of the arrival of the motorcade of UN special envoy for Yemen at Sanaa International airport on January 31st. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

Yemeni forces have seized rockets and drones bound for the city of Sanaa, which is controlled by the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah), on the outskirts of Marib and al-Jawf provinces, Yemen’s Interior Ministry announced Saturday (February 2nd).

"The seizure of these quantities [of rockets and drones] was the result of information received by the ministry’s agencies," Interior Ministry First Deputy Maj. Gen. Mohammed bin Abboud al-Sharif, told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.

Several men involved in smuggling the weapons were arrested and immediately referred to public prosecution, he said.

Rockets, explosives and drones were delivered via Yemen's eastern coast which is under the legitimate government’s control, he said.

"The Houthi militias get such weapons from [smugglers] who deliver them to areas under their [Houthis'] control," said al-Sharif.

Security forces seized the items on the outskirts of Marib and al-Jawf provinces before they could reach Sanaa, he added.

The weapons were loaded on medium trucks to appear as if they were personal items belonging to the truck driver and to facilitate movement in rough terrain and mountainous areas, he said.

"The Houthis intentionally import these weapons via the eastern coast to divert monitoring operations," al-Sharif said, adding that the militia continues to smuggle weapons through the Houthi-controlled western coast.

Drones are 'regional threat'

The Houthis' possession of drones and rockets "threatens local and regional peace and security, as well as international navigation in the Red Sea", journalist Munir Talal told Al-Mashareq.

"Drones have become a major threat in the hands of the armed militia," he said, citing the Houthi drone attack last month on Yemen's largest air base.

The Houthis on January 10th said they carried out a strike on al-Anad air base, in government-held Lahj province some 60 kilometres north of Aden.

On Sunday (February 3rd), Yemen's information minister said that the deputy chief of staff died from wounds sustained in the attack.

"Maj. Gen. Saleh al-Zandani, deputy chief of staff, was martyred while undergoing treatment after he was wounded in the terrorist bombing at the al-Anad base," Moammer al-Eryani wrote on Twitter.

Zandani was among 11 wounded in the drone attack. Seven other loyalists -- including a high-ranking intelligence official -- were killed.

"The national army and Arab Coalition forces must block the smuggling routes to prevent further weapons from reaching the Houthis," Talal said.

He called on the international community to exercise pressure on Iran as "it is the main supplier of such weapons to the Houthis, which threaten domestic and regional security".

Al-Hodeidah peace 'fragile'

Meanwhile, the head of the UN mission in Yemen warned the legitimate government and the Houthis on Sunday that a seven-week ceasefire in the flashpoint city of al-Hodeidah was fragile and urged them to order their commanders on the ground to uphold the truce.

Retired Dutch general Patrick Cammaert met with government representatives and Houthis aboard a vessel anchored in the port of al-Hodeidah on Sunday for talks aimed at shoring up the ceasefire, AFP reported.

The talks are to continue on Monday, a UN statement said, describing the meeting as "cordial and constructive".

The meeting was to address problems in implementing an agreement reached in Sweden in December that calls for a ceasefire in Houthi-held al-Hodeidah, a pullback of forces from the port city, and the opening of humanitarian corridors.

Cammaert "warned the parties about the fragility of the ceasefire and urged them to instruct their commanders on the ground to refrain from any further violations that would jeopardise the Stockholm Agreement and the broader peace process for Yemen", the statement said.

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