Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement launched missile and drone attacks on Thursday on a military parade in Aden, the seat of government and a stronghold of the Saudi-led military coalition, killing 36 people according to the interior ministry.
An explosion hit a military camp belonging to the Yemeni Security Belt forces backed by the United Arab Emirates, which is a member of the Western-backed coalition battling the Houthis, a witness said.
Soldiers screamed and ran to lift the wounded and place them on trucks. Red berets lay on the ground in pools of blood as several soldiers cried near the body of a commander who was a leading figure among southern separatists.
Yemen’s Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed and Saudi Arabia’s envoy to Yemen accused Iran of being behind the parade attack and a separate blast at a police station, also in the southern port city on Thursday, involving an explosives-laden car.
No one has claimed responsibility for the other attack which the interior ministry statement said killed 13 policemen. Past car attacks in Yemen have been carried out by Islamist militant group al Qaeda, one of Yemen’s many destabilizing forces.
The escalation in violence could complicate U.N.-led efforts to implement a stalled troop withdrawal in the main port city of Hodeidah to pave the way for political talks to end the war amid mistrust among all parties and competing agendas among Yemen’s fractious groups.
“I call on parties to honor their commitment to peace and put more efforts toward a political solution to the conflict,” U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths tweeted on Thursday.
The Sunni Muslim coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognized government ousted from power in the capital Sanaa in late 2014 by the Houthis.
The conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran.
The Saudi envoy, Mohammed bin Saeed Al Jabir, said the Aden attacks indicate that Iran “shares common goals with fellow terrorists such as Daesh (Islamic State) and al Qaeda”.
Iran denies having any involvement in Yemen.
The Houthis’ official channel Al Masirah TV said the group had launched a medium-range ballistic missile and an armed drone at the parade, which it described as being staged in preparation for a military move against provinces held by the movement.
The commander killed at the parade was Brigadier General Muneer al-Yafee, the interior ministry said.
Yafee had stepped off the stage to greet a guest when the explosion took place. Flags of the former South Yemen and those of the coalition fluttered as the military band was waiting for its cue to start playing.
“The blast occurred behind the stand where the ceremony was taking place at Al Jalaa military camp in Buraiqa district in Aden,” a witness said.
The government of Abdu-Rabbu Mansour Hadi controls Aden. The Houthi movement, which denies being a puppet of Iran and says its revolution is against corruption, holds Sanaa and most of the biggest urban centers in the Arabian Peninsula nation.
Last month the UAE said it was scaling down its military presence in areas including Aden and the western coast, but would not leave a vacuum as it had trained 90,000 Yemeni forces from among southern separatists and coastal plains fighters.
The coalition has come under pressure from Western allies, including countries that supply it with arms and intelligence, to end the war that has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
“The UAE’s recent drawdown shuffled the deck in a way that opens new opportunities to de-escalate the conflict, but also brings new perils. The Houthis may be trying to test how it will change conditions on the ground,” said Elizabeth Dickinson of the International Crisis Group think tank.
The Houthis have stepped up cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities and the coalition has responded with air strikes on Houthi military sites, mostly around Sanaa.
Al Masirah said the Houthis launched a long-range ballistic missile on a military site in Dammam in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province on Thursday. There was no immediate confirmation from the coalition or Saudi authorities.