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52 Yemen soldiers dead in IS-claimed bombing

Kerry discusses Yemen on Saudi trip

ADEN: Yemenis gather at the Al-Sawlaba base in Aden’s Al-Arish district yesterday, after a suicide bomber targeted a crowd of soldiers. – AFP

ADEN/RIYADH: A suicide bomber from the Islamic State group killed at least 52 Yemeni soldiers in Aden yesterday, the latest in a string of deadly attacks against recruits in the country’s second city. Military officials and medics said dozens more were wounded in the attack that targeted a crowd of servicemen who had gathered to collect their salaries near a base in northeastern Aden. Aden health chief Abdel Nasser Al-Wali warned that the number was likely to increase due to “critical cases”.

The attack was carried out by a suicide bomber who blended in among soldiers crowding outside the house of the head of special security forces in Aden, Colonel Nasser Sarea, in Al-Arish district, near Al-Sawlaban base. Sarea said the bomber “took advantage of the gathering and detonated his explosives among them”. Images from the blast scene showed bloodstains and scattered shoes across the sandy ground.

IS claimed responsibility for the attack, saying in a statement that a “martyrdom seeker” had gotten through security checkpoints before blowing himself up. The attack comes eight days after a similar bombing at Al-Sawlaban claimed by IS killed 48 soldiers and wounded 29 others. Yemeni authorities have fought a months-long campaign against jihadists who remain active in the south and east of the impoverished Arabian peninsula country.

IS and its jihadist rival Al-Qaeda have taken advantage of a conflict between the government and Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who control the capital Sanaa, to bolster their presence across much of the south. The two extremist groups have carried out a spate of attacks in Aden, Yemen’s second city and headquarters of the internationally recognized government whose forces retook the port city from the Houthis last year. But Al-Qaeda has distanced itself from the Dec 10 attack, claiming that it tends to avoid “the shedding of any Muslim blood” while focusing on fighting the “Americans and their allies.”

Kerry in kingdom
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry met Saudi King Salman and others yesterday to discuss the war in Yemen, a visit to the kingdom that likely will be his last as America’s top diplomat. Kerry’s trip, ahead of the inauguration of Republican President-elect Donald Trump, comes as diplomatic ties between the two longtime allies have been strained by the Iran nuclear deal championed by Democratic President Barack Obama and other issues.

Any tensions weren’t immediately visible as Kerry held meetings with the king, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and other royalty in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. “In turbulent times, it’s good to have solid friends,” Kerry told journalists yesterday night. “That’s why the United States’ partnership with Saudi Arabia is rightly so valuable.”

Kerry earlier joined diplomats from Britain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates to speak with Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the United Nations special envoy to Yemen. The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis, while Oman has served as an interlocutor for them. On Twitter, British Middle East Minister Tobias Ellwood said the meeting discussed a political process to end Yemen’s war, something he described as “the only way to bring peace”.

Kerry said he hoped to have parties involved “within two weeks” to agree to terms earlier set out by the UN. But he and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir offered few specifics on how that would be accomplished, especially as the UN has proposed sidelining Saudi-backed President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi and giving the rebels a share of power – concessions the kingdom strongly opposes. “You can see from the humanitarian situation, which is dire and deteriorating rapidly, that it is urgent that we try to bring this war to a close,” he said. “But we also need to bring it to a close in a way that protects the security of Saudi Arabia.” – Agencies

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