AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s military has accused the Iran-backed Houthis of storing weapons and ammunition inside or near residential areas, after large explosions ripped through several buildings in a housing compound in the southern city of Taiz.
Abdul Basit Al-Baher, a military officer, told Arab News on Thursday that the blasts that shook Houthi-controlled Huban district in Taiz early on Tuesday were caused by weapons and ammunition stored in the basements and lower floors of several buildings in Al-Saleh residential complex.
“The Houthi militia sealed off the area and even prevented ambulances from reaching the wounded,” he said. “Many civilians were killed or wounded in the explosions as fragments of bombs hit their houses outside the complex.”
An amateur video posted online showed explosions and large balls of fire rising from the ground floor of three buildings in Al-Saleh.
Other images showed three buildings that had been badly damaged by the blasts.
Yemeni army officials said the Houthis moved weapons, ammunition and drones from military bases in Dhamar and other areas to the residential area in Taiz, and turned the upper floors of Al-Saleh buildings into secret detention centers.
“The ground floors are workshops for assembling and booby-trapping drones, and weapons depots,” Al-Baher said, adding that the Houthis had endangered the lives of thousands of people who live in areas of Taiz under their control.
“This is a criminal and terrorist organization that does not care about the lives of civilians.”
The Houthis told residents that the explosions were caused by fireworks lit during a wedding in Huban.
A Yemeni news agency reported on Thursday that the Houthis were holding more than 3,000 people who had been abducted from Taiz and other areas at secret prisons in Al-Saleh, and had also turned some flats there into command rooms and hiding places for their leaders.
The explosions in the city are not the first to be linked to secret Houthi weapons dumps. Similar blasts have been reported in densely populated areas of Houthi-held Sanaa, Dhamar and Jouf.
Officials say the Houthis hide weapons and drones in civilian facilities that are on the no-target list of the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen.
In May 2019, Human Rights Watch and the Sanaa-based Mwatana for Human Rights said an explosion in April that killed at least 15 children and wounded more than 100 people in Sanaa’s Sawan neighborhood was caused by a fire at a Houthi weapons storage facility.
Also on Thursday, in Sanaa, relatives of Yemeni abductees held at Houthi jails organized a rare protest to denounce the sentences handed down to their loved ones by a Houthi-controlled court.
The Mothers of Abductees Association, an umbrella organization for thousands of female relatives of war prisoners, staged the protest outside the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The women demanded the release of 13 prisoners who had earlier been sentenced to death or jail terms by Sanaa’s Specialized Criminal Court.
“We hold Houthi armed groups fully responsible for our sons’ lives as such crimes are imprescriptible,” read one of the posters carried by the women.
The organization said the abductees had been brutally tortured by the Houthis into confessing to crimes and that the father of one of the convicted men died of shock after hearing the court’s ruling.
Meanwhile, dozens of Houthis were killed in more than 23 air raids by coalition warplanes in the provinces of Marib and Hajjah, which have witnessed bloody fighting between government troops and the Houthis over the past 24 hours.
The Arab coalition said on Thursday that the strikes also destroyed 17 Houthi military vehicles.