Wounded Emirati soldier Mohammed Ali shows a victory sign as he rests on his bed at the Zayed Military Hospital yesterday. — AP
Wounded Emirati soldier Mohammed Ali shows a victory sign as he rests on his bed at the Zayed Military Hospital yesterday. — AP

SANAA: Qatar has sent 1,000 ground troops to Yemen, Doha-based Al Jazeera television said, escalating Gulf Arab intervention in Yemen’s war ahead of a planned offensive against Iranian-backed Houthis holding the capital Sanaa. Qatari pilots had already joined months of Saudi-led air strikes on the Houthi militia, which seized Sanaa a year ago and then advanced across much of the country, forcing President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi into exile in March. Military sources told Reuters that Qatari troops were on their way to Yemen and preparing to join a new push on Houthi positions in Sanaa.

A regional Yemeni official in oil-producing Marib province east of Sanaa said the Qatari contingent had already “crossed the Al-Wadia border post” between Saudi Arabia and Yemen and was heading to Marib – where Hadi loyalists have been preparing for the thrust towards Sanaa. Saudi-owned al Arabiya satellite network also said Qatari and Saudi reinforcements had crossed the frontier. The first reported involvement of Qatari ground forces in Yemen coincided with an intensification of the conflict a few days after a rocket strike in Marib that killed

dozens of soldiers including Saudis and Emiratis. Saudi coalition forces on Sunday carried out repeated air raids on Houthi targets and allied troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in apparent retaliation.

Saudi-led warplanes yesterday renewed strikes on Houthi targets across Yemen and Houthi-run media said the raids killed at least 12 people, including women and children, in the central province of Ibb. It was not immediately possible to independently verify the report. Al Jazeera’s English website said 1,000 Qatari soldiers, backed by 200 armored vehicles and 30 US-made Apache helicopters had been deployed.

Qatar’s foreign ministry made no immediate comment. The Saudi-owned Al-Hayat newspaper said yesterday that Saudi Arabia had also sent “huge reinforcements” of elite forces, along with Qatari troops, to Marib. “Final preparations are being made for a decisive battle, before moving on to liberate Sanaa,” Al-Hayat said. Jean-Marc Rickli, a professor at King’s College London who is teaching at Qatar National Defence College, told Reuters it was Qatar’s first deployment of ground forces in Yemen. “This force will probably take part in the overall war effort to retake the capital after the coalition successfully recaptured Aden last month,” he added.

Gulf Arab states regard the Houthis as proxies for non- Arab Iran, which they accuse of trying to extend its influence into Arab countries, including Syria and Yemen. Saudi-led forces have helped Hadi supporters drive the Houthis out of the southern port of Aden in July but have made little progress in other areas since, where the fighting in Marib and the central city of Taiz remains bogged down. Hardest hit in the Marib attack was the UAE, a federation of seven states that includes Dubai and the oil-rich capital, Abu Dhabi, which lost 45 soldiers. Ten Saudis were killed in the blast too. Bahrain also lost five soldiers.

Radio stations across the UAE have replaced their usual upbeat fare with Quranic recitations and classical music to mark three days of mourning commemorating the unprecedented war loss – an honor typically reserved for the country’s top leaders. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the powerful Abu Dhabi crown prince and deputy supreme commander of the UAE armed forces, and other top government officials visited families of killed soldiers. Outside medical clinics, Emirati men in traditional white garments known as thobes have been lining up to give blood for those still recovering from the attack.

The managing editor of the widely read UAE daily Gulf News, Mohammed Almezel, suggested in an op-ed that the deaths were a “Pearl Harbor moment” that will strengthen the Emirates’ determination in Yemen. He described the fight as “part of a strategic decision to defend and preserve the security and stability of the Gulf strategic hemisphere”. “The cowardly attack in Marib will not intimidate the Arab coalition into abdicating its responsibility of defending justice and supporting the right of the Yemeni people,” he wrote.

Mustafa Alani, the director of the security and defense department at the Gulf Research Center in Geneva, said that rather than spooking it, Friday’s attack will likely prod the coalition to “finish the job in Yemen under any circumstance.” Many in Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and the Emirates support the war and will likely continue to do so despite the casualties, as a way to check what they see as Iran’s expansionist policies in the region, Alani said. “This is not a battle for Yemen,” Alani said. “The great majority of the population understands it’s much wider than that. It’s a strategic confrontation, and they are ready to sacrifice.” “It is a matter of survival in the region,” Alani added. That sentiment was echoed by businessman Abdullah Al- Musa outside a Dubai mosque. He described the fight in Yemen as a way to ultimately help the Emirates. “They are our neighbors. If there is a problem in your neighbor’s house, tomorrow it will be in your house,” he said. — Agencies