At least 20 people were killed in an attack on Aden airport on Wednesday, moments after a plane carrying Yemen’s new government touched down in the southern city.
Maeen Abulmalik, Prime Minister of Yemen, who was on the plane, said all of his cabinet were “fine”. Writing on Twitter, he said the incident was “part of the war waged against the Yemeni state and its great people”.
The attack, which came as cabinet members returned to the administrative capital in a new power-sharing government formed after a Saudi-led mediation effort, returned to Aden, threatens to escalate fighting in Yemen’s nearly six-year civil conflict.
No group has claimed responsibility for the aggression, but officials in the Saudi-backed administration blamed the Houthi rebels.
The Associated Press estimated the death toll at 22 people and said dozens of people were injured.
Video footage released by Al Arabiya, a Saudi television station, showed the government delegation starting to disembark from a plane when the first explosion was heard. Gunshots then erupted as black smoke billowed from the airport buildings. There were subsequently unconfirmed reports of an explosion near a presidential palace in Aden where cabinet members had gathered.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said one of its staff was killed in the blast, adding that two others were missing and three were missing.
Yemen has been embroiled in a devastating civil war since the Houthis, an Islamist movement, seized Sanaa, the capital, in late 2014 and forced President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi into exile.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and their Arab allies intervened militarily in the conflict in March 2015 to support Hadi’s government in its battle against the Houthis.
Riyadh accuses the Houthi movement, which controls the populated north of Yemen, of being an Iranian proxy that stirs up conflict on its doorstep.
Saudi Arabia has been working for months to negotiate an agreement to reconcile Mr. Hadi’s administration with secessionists in the south, who are led by the Southern Transitional Council.
The STC, which wants an independent south, was part of the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis. But the southern group turned its guns on Mr Hadi’s forces last year and seized control of Aden, threatening to spark another conflict in the civil war.
The formation of the new government, which includes members of the STC, was agreed this month and was designed to ease tensions in the south and remove one of the complexities hampering the UN’s attempts to negotiate an end nationally to war at large.
But the airport attack underscored the scale of the challenges facing Yemen, which has been ravaged by war and is under the control of a myriad of armed groups.
Martin Griffiths, the UN envoy to Yemen, condemned the attack. “I wish the Cabinet the strength to face the difficult tasks ahead. This unacceptable act of violence is a tragic reminder of the importance of urgently bringing Yemen back to the path of peace, ”he said on Twitter.
The conflict in Yemen has created what the UN describes as the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crisis, with an estimated 14 million people, or about half the population, on the brink of starvation.