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152 Feared Dead in Yemen Ballistic Missle Strike

December 14, 2015 (Photo Credit: Saleh al-Obeidi/AFP)

DUBAI — One hundred and fifty-two coalition soldiers are feared dead after a short range ballistic missile strike hit a coalition base at the strategic Bab al-Mandab region in the south, a coalition source told Defense News.

Among the dead in the attack, which took place Monday afternoon, was the commander of the Saudi Special Forces, Col. Abdullah Al Sahyan, the source confirmed.

"So far, nine Emirati soldiers, seven Moroccans and 23 Saudis have been identified," the source added.

The missile strike was conducted by OTR-21 Tochka mobile missile launch system for short range ballistic missiles, the source said.

The Saudi-led Arab coalition also announced Monday that the planned cease-fire in the country will start at 12:00 midday, Sanaa time, 9:00 am GMT, on Tuesday, Dec. 15.

"The coalition reserves its right to respond to any breach of the seven-day truce which is renewable on December 21 in case of compliance by the other party (the Houthis)", according to a statement by the command, carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

The command of the coalition reaffirmed commitment to supporting the Yemeni people and their internationally recognized government, and contributing to the efforts aiming to reach a political settlement to the Yemeni crisis, SPA reported.

The decision to declare a ceasefire came in response to an initiative contained in a letter by Yemeni President Abd-Rabbuh Mansur Hadi to Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, the statement pointed out.

The truce takes effect in synchronization with the UN-sponsored peace talks between the government, on one hand, and the Houthi rebels and supporters of the ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh, on the other.

The talks, due in Switzerland on Tuesday, aim to reach a lasting peace deal based on the UN Security Council Resolution 2216.

"The Houthis fired a long-range missile at a secret headquarters of the pro-government military leadership close to the strategic strait of Bab al-Mandab, killing more than 100 men of the coalition," said Shehab Al Makahleh, a political analyst and director of Geostrategic Media Middle East.

"The launch of a Tochka missile on a military base in southwest of Yemen by al-Mandab Strait aims to shift the political scene, which the coalition had been trying to achieve for more than eight months, which culminated in an expected cease-fire tonight before Geneva talks," he said.

The strike proves that the Houthi rebels in Yemen have improved intelligence capabilities, Makahleh added.

"Two other missiles were also launched yesterday and today on Jizan, which led the Saudis to send more troops to the borders with Yemen," he added.

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was due to order his commanders to halt all fire five minutes before midnight on Monday, said officials in Hadi's office.

"We have agreed to the cease-fire to lift the suffering of our people and to deliver humanitarian assistance to them," Mohammed Abdel Salam, the spokesman of the Houthis, said Dec. 12 at a news conference in Sanaa as the Houthi delegation prepared to depart for Geneva.

The internationally recognized government has long requested the unconditional implementation of a UN Security Council resolution that requires the rebels to withdraw from all areas they control and lay down arms captured in months of fighting.

Abdel Salam said the Houthi delegation will discuss the resolution at the talks in Geneva, which were due to begin on Monday. But so far the Houthis have not said they would agree to its terms.

The Security Council approved the resolution in April, after the Saudi-led coalition began launching airstrikes in March against the Houthi rebels in support of Hadi's government.

Even with the approaching ceasefire, clashes intensified across several front lines in the country.

More than 27 fighters from both sides were killed in Taiz and Lahj provinces late on Friday and Saturday, while 16 pro-government fighters and 10 Houthi fighters were killed in Jawf province, according to independent security officials.

The Saudi-led coalition also continued to carry out airstrikes against Houthi positions, according to the officials.

Email: amustafa@defensenews

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