Smoke rises from an oil tank set on fire by rebel shelling of the Aden oil refinery in southern Yemen on 27 June, 2015. EPA
ADEN // Fire erupted at Aden’s oil refinery on Saturday when Houthi rebels shelled the nearby port to prevent a Qatari ship carrying aid for devastated city from docking.
“The rebels fired artillery rounds at the area and one hit an oil tank at the refinery, sparking a fire,” said an official at the Aden Refinery Company.
A government official said the Houthis were targeting a Qatari vessel carrying food supplies from Djibouti, and that the attack forced it to turn back.
Both the port and the refinery in Aden’s Buraiqa district are controlled by pro-government fighters, and the area has seen fierce clashes between the rebels and forces loyal to exiled president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi.
The refinery has not been receiving any oil via the port, but it still has 1.2 million tonnes of crude in storage and also gas tanks.
Random shelling by the rebels also killed eight civilians in northern Aden on Saturday, including a woman and her three children.
Medical sources said the shelling struck residential areas in Al Mansoura and Sheikh Othman districts.
Supported by airstrikes and weapons drops from a Saudi-led Arab coalition, fighters in Yemen’s south and its main city Aden have been resisting the advance of the Iran-backed rebels.
The coalition began its campaign in late March as the rebels advanced on Aden, where Mr Hadi had taken refuge after fleeing the capital Sanaa, seeking to restore his exiled government.
Coalition warplanes carried out “at least 15 air raids” across several parts of Aden on Saturday, a pro-Hadi military official said.
Airstrikes also hit targets elsewhere in Yemen, including Jawf, Sadaa, Taez and Hodeida.
North of Aden, four fighters from the pro-Hadi southern resistance movement and 10 Houthis were killed in clashes near Ja’wala and Bir Ahmed.
The two areas have so far been under the control of supporters of Mr Hadi, who is in exile in Saudi Arabia.
In Shabwa, another southern province, tribesmen killed nine rebels in an attack on a troop carrier, according to a military source close to the Houthis.
The rebel forces comprise both Houthis and renegade troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Security sources said two battalions of the Republican Guard and special forces backing Mr Saleh withdrew from Aden on Saturday and were moving to reinforce positions in Sanaa and their northern stronghold of Saada near the Saudi border.
More than 2,600 people have been killed in the fighting in Yemen since March, according to the UN, and almost 80 per cent of the population – 20 million people – need urgent humanitarian aid.
The situation is particularly serious in Aden, where residents complain of food and water shortages and health officials warn of disease spreading.