A ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on Wednesday killed the deputy chief of staff of the country’s military in a major blow to the U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition, which heavily supports the government, officials said.
The SABA news agency, which is controlled by the Houthi rebels, said their forces struck the vehicle of Brig. Gen. Ahmed Saif al-Yafie in the Red Sea port of Mokha.
Yemeni military officials said the missile hit a gathering point for the military commanders. A total of seven officers were killed, including al-Yafie, and 25 were wounded, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Yemeni Prime Minister Ahmed Abdu Dagher expressed condolences on Twitter after the attack, saying the “end of the enemy is near.”
Al-Yafie was loyal to Yemen’s internationally recognized government, which has been battling the Houthis and their allies since 2015. A Saudi-led coalition launched an air and ground campaign in support of the government that year, but the rebels are still in control of the capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen.
Mokha, a strategic Red Sea port, witnessed intense fighting between Houthis and allied forces loyal to the ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the Saudi-led coalition and pro-government forces, mostly southern fighters.
Tens of thousands of people were recently displaced from the fighting along the western coastline.
On Tuesday, Jamie McGoldrick, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Yemen warned of an escalation in the fighting along Yemen’s western coast, “at a great cost to civilians.”
He said over 17 million people are “unable to adequately feed themselves and are frequently forced to skip meals — women and girls eat the least and last.”
“Seven million do not know where their next meal will come from and are ever closer to starvation,” McGoldrick said.
The conflict in Yemen has pushed the Arab world’s poorest nation to the edge of famine and international humanitarian organizations have been pleading for cessation of hostilities to help deliver basic needs to those displaced or besieged by warring parties.