People fill containers with water from a water tanker, amid an acute shortage of clean drinking water in Sanaa, April 20, 2015. Image Credit: REUTERS

Kuwait City: Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin on Monday rejected Iran’s offer to mediate a solution to the crisis in his war-torn country, insisting that Tehran-backed Al Houthi militiamen surrender.

“Any mediation effort coming from Iran is unacceptable because Iran is involved in the Yemen issue,” Yassin said on the sidelines of an Arab-Turkish economic meeting in Kuwait City.

“Iran has become a major part of the Yemeni crisis and those who are a party to the crisis... cannot become mediators,” he said.

Iran has been backing the Al Houthi militiamen who along with forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh have taken control of most of Yemen, prompting air strikes from a Saudi-led coalition to support the government.

Yassin said thousands of anti-government fighters had been killed since the start of the air strikes on March 26.

The Saudi-led air campaign was launched following a plea from President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi after rebels closed in on his refuge in the southern city of Aden. He has since fled to Riyadh.

The minister said Yemen’s exiled government will not accept negotiations unless Al Houthis and pro-Saleh forces lay down arms.

“The Al Houthis and Saleh forces must withdraw from all cities and villages of Yemen, including Sana’a and Aden, return to [their northern stronghold of] Saada as civilians, and lay down their arms,” Yassin said.

“After that we can talk about dialogue and a political solution. But now there is no room for negotiations,” he said.

Yassin said that Arab and other countries will take part in a meeting to study plans for the reconstruction of Yemen after the war.

“There is a project we are studying with Gulf countries, an ‘Arab Marshall plan’ for reconstruction in Yemen,” he said, referring to the US programme that helped rebuild Europe after the Second World War.

In Sana’a, Saudi-led air strikes on weapons caches in Yemen’s militia-held capital on Monday caused huge explosions that shattered windows, woke up residents and sent towering clouds of smoke into the sky.

The explosions in came as fighting intensified in the southern port city of Aden, where Al Houthi militiamen along with military units loyal to a former autocrat are battling youths and forces loyal to internationally recognised President Hadi.

Mushroom clouds rose over Fag Atan, in the mountainous outskirts of Sana’a where the capital’s largest weapons caches are located. The site has been targeted several times during the three-week air campaign. A Yemeni official said the Saudi-led warplanes are demolishing parts of the mountain, hoping to uncover and destroy Scud missiles. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.

Residents posted videos and pictures of the explosions, and the damage they had caused, on social media.

“The hanging ceiling and chandelier fell because of the explosions,” resident Mohammad Mohsin said.

Defiant tone

Saudi Arabia and allied countries began launching air strikes on March 26, hoping to roll back the rebels, who seized Sana’a in September and have overrun large parts of the country with the help of security forces loyal to former President Saleh.

Western governments and Arab countries accuse Al Houthis of receiving arms from Iran. Iran and the rebels deny that, though the Islamic Republic has provided political and humanitarian support to the group.

Militia leader Abdul Malek Al Houthi struck a defiant tone on Sunday, saying: “The great Yemeni people will never surrender and never be subjugated.”

Al Houthis and Saleh loyalists have been trying to take over Aden since late last month. On Monday, heavy fighting erupted near the airport and in the central Al Arish district between the Houthis and local armed groups formed by residents to defend their neighbourhoods, witnesses said.