Large explosions rocked the airport of Aden in Yemen on Wednesday, shortly after a plane carrying the country’s newly formed cabinet arrived from Saudi Arabia. At least 22 people were killed and 50 were wounded in the blast, officials reported.

Another explosion rocked the capital, close to the palace, where the new cabinet members were taken to, shortly after the airport explosion. 

While the source of the explosion is not immediately clear and no group has claimed responsibility for attacking the airport, Information Minister Muammar al Eryani accused the Iranian-backed Houthi militia group of launching the attack. The Houthis have denied responsibility. 

Al Eryani posted on Twitter, “We assure our ppl that all cabinet members r safe, & a cowardly terrorist attack by Iran-backed Houthi militia on Aden airport will not deter us from our duty & our life isn’t more valuable than other Yemenis. May Allah have mercy on souls of martyrs, & wish fast recovery [to the] injured.”

Smoke billowed from the airport’s terminal building as bodies were strewn about the tarmac and across the airport. 

A security official told Reuters that three mortar shells landed on the terminal. However, the Saudi television channel Al-Hadath broadcasted a video showing a missile hit the tarmac and exploding. This was somewhat corroborated by Yemeni Communication Minister Naguib al-Awg, who was onboard the plane.

“It would have been a disaster if the plane was bombed,” al-Awg said. He added that the plane was the target of the attack, but was thankfully delayed in landing.

Yemeni government spokesman Rajah Badih told Arab media that a Houthi drone was also spotted near Aden’s Maishiq palace, where government ministers were taken after the airport attack. 

The majority of those killed or injured in the blasts were civilians awaiting a flight to Cairo. One member of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Yemen said three of its staff members were killed in the attack and another three wounded. 

Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed denounced the attack on Twitter after he and his cabinet members were escorted to the palace. Saeed tweeted, “We and the members of the government are in the temporary capital of Aden and everyone is fine.

“The cowardly terrorist act that targeted Aden airport is part of the war that is being waged against the Yemeni state and its great people,” Prime Minister Saeed said.

“It only increases our determination to carry out our duties.”

Since 2014, Yemen has been wracked by a civil war between the Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi-led Yemeni government and the Houthi armed movement, which is supported by Iran. The Saudis formed a coalition of Arab countries to defeat the Houthis. 

The bloody fighting has left more than 110,000 people dead and triggered what the UN has characterized as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. Millions of Yemenis are on the brink of famine. This has left the country’s overtaxed infrastructure even more vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new Yemeni cabinet was formed to alleviate the growing rift between the Saudi-backed government forces and the separatist militias led by the United Arab Emirates. The two sides were allied against the Houthis but have been themselves locked in a power struggle. 

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