Fighting in the Middle East's poorest country, war-torn Yemen, steps up between the Houthi rebels and the Western-backed Saudi coalition forces, who have been criticised for commonly targeting civilians, mostly children.

Security personnel wearing protective masks stand on a street during a 24-hour curfew amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, in Sanaa, Yemen, May 6, 2020.
Security personnel wearing protective masks stand on a street during a 24-hour curfew amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, in Sanaa, Yemen, May 6, 2020. (Reuters Archive)

Violence in Yemen has surged between the Houthi rebels and the Western-backed Saudi coalition after a six-week ceasefire prompted by the coronavirus pandemic expired last month.

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said it intercepted and destroyed a ballistic missile fired by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement towards the south of the kingdom on Tuesday after intercepting several drones launched the previous night.

A coalition statement said the missile was launched towards the southern region of Najran.

It earlier said that it had destroyed several armed drones fired towards the southern city of Khamis Mushait late on Monday.

A Houthi military spokesman said in a Twitter post that the Khamis Mushait attack was in response to coalition air strikes. 

There was no immediate confirmation of the missile attack.

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Civilians targeted

On Monday, the Houthi health minister said in a Twitter post that a coalition air strike killed 13 people, including four children, in Saada province. 

A coalition spokesman did not immediately respond to a Reuters' request for comment.

In the Houthi-held capital Sanaa on Tuesday, several residents said coalition warplanes struck military sites south and west of the city.

The coalition later said it had carried out heavy air strikes on Houthi targets in Sanaa and neighbouring Omran provinces, Saudi state-run Ekhbariya news reported from a coalition statement, without further details.

The Houthis ousted Yemen's Saudi-backed government from Sanaa in late 2014, prompting the coalition to intervene.

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Saudi-led coalition pulled from UN blacklist

Campaigners reacted angrily on Monday to the removal of the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen from a list of groups violating children's rights, in a report by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

"The Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen will be delisted for the violation of killing and maiming, following a sustained significant decrease ... due to air strikes," said the UN's newly published annual report on children in conflict zones.

It said the toll had fallen since an agreement signed in March 2019.

It has been widely blamed for civilian casualties in bombing raids that campaigners say have pushed the country deeper into crisis.

Human Rights Watch denounced Guterres for dropping the coalition from the "list of shame," saying he was "ignoring the UN's own evidence of continued grave violations against children."

The Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict said that "by absolving the Saudi- and Emirati-led coalition of any responsibility for killing and maiming children in Yemen, the UN Secretary-General has left children vulnerable to further attacks."

It said the coalition was responsible for the death or injury of 222 children in Yemen last year.

Inger Ashing of Save the Children called it a "shocking decision" by Guterres.

But the secretary general's envoy for children and armed conflict, Virginia Gamba, said the UN had come "under no pressure" from Saudi Arabia and that the removal from the list was based on data.

Covid-19 pandemic in Yemen

The uptick in violence comes as Yemen combats the spread of the novel coronavirus among an acutely malnourished population.

The United Nations says the virus is spreading unmitigated in a country with shattered health systems and inadequate testing capabilities and that infections are likely much higher than official reports.

The Saudi-backed government based in the south has announced 834 cases, including 208 deaths. 

The Houthis, who control most big urban centres, have not provided figures since May 16 when authorities said there were four cases, with one death. 

READ MORE: How Yemen’s Houthis have become kingmakers in the bloody conflict

Source: TRTWorld and agencies