On Sunday, Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen agreed to a five-day humanitarian cease fire starting Tuesday with Saudi coalition forces, who are intervening in Yemen’s civil war between Saudi-backed and recently deposed Sunni Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Houthi rebels representing the nation’s Shiite minority. However, hostilities appear to have escalated today amid reports cited by Reuters that a Moroccan F-16 fighter jet disappeared during a Saudi Arabia led mission in Yemen’s Saada province. Military officials in Morocco, one of 9 nations supporting Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen, said, “One of the F-16s of the Royal Armed Force put at the disposal of the coalition led by Saudi Arabia to restore the legitimacy in Yemen went missing on Sunday at 6 p.m. local time.”
Meanwhile, BBC News notes that Houthi-controlled Al-Masirah TV reported today that the plane was shot down by rebels as it flew over Saada province. Saudi Arabian coalition forces, backed by the United States, have been pummeling Saada with an intense bombing campaign over the past three days. Analysts cited by BBC News said that the Saudi coalition appears to be intensifying its attacks in order to cause as much destruction as possible prior to the start of the temporary ceasefire, scheduled Tuesday in an effort to allow humanitarian groups to assist civilians caught in the crossfire. Saudi Arabia previously agreed to send $274 million in humanitarian aid to civilians in Yemen through international human rights groups.
If the reports that the plane has been shot down are true, the downed aircraft would represent the first plane from Saudi Arabia’s coalition to be shot down during the intervention.
“The violent explosions can be heard from anywhere in the city and we feel they could land on our heads. We’re living a life of terror,” said Sanaa resident Ahmed Fawaz, describing civilian life amid Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in comments to Reuters.
Houthi media director Nasruddin Amer said, according to The Wall Street Journal, “It is our right to shoot down any military plane if they violate the Yemeni airspace.”
Saudi Arabia began sending tanks to the Yemeni border on Monday, raising fears of an imminent ground invasion. Saudi coalition spokesperson Brigadier General Ahmed Aseeri denied that the tank strike force was intended to be part of a wider ground invasion and said that the tanks are just refreshing Saudi Arabia’s defenses. “In professional armies, you cannot maintain the same troops for a long time in the field. You have to renew and change your troops,” he said.