Ahmed Sharabi, a 24-year-old Yemeni journalist, was having lunch across the road from al-Jafra hospital in Mareb, a province east of Yemen’s capital Sana’a on Sunday afternoon, when a car laden with explosives pulled up in front of the infirmary and exploded, sending debris flying across the street.
"It was a huge explosion, glass fell from the sky," Sharabi said. "The heat burned the hair on the back of my neck. I could smell smoke. People were screaming. Lots of people were running and screaming.”
At least eighteen people were killed and over fifty injured in the blast, including several hospital staff, according to Sharabi who spoke to Middle East Eye via Skype. “It was chaos,” said Sharabi. “There was blood all over the street.”
Hours after the bombing, Ansar al-Sharia, a group linked to Yemen’s al-Qaeda branch said in a statement on its Twitter account that it had carried out the attack which was meant to target the Houthis, a group of Shi'ite rebels who have overrun Yemen’s capital. Sharabi said the Houthis had occupied the hospital in Mareb and turned it into a base for its operations.
Ansar al-Sharia have carried out numerous attacks on military and civilians installations of the US-allied Yemeni government. But the group, which adheres to an austere brand of Sunni Islam which views Shi'ites as heretics, has turned its attention to the Houthis who have emerged as a dominant political force since the 2012 uprising that overthrew Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Last week, Ansar al-Shara said they carried out a similar attack on the Houthis in their northern stronghold of Saada province, in which dozens were killed or wounded.
Since seizing control of the capital last week and after fighting with soldiers loyal to the Sunni Muslim Islah party, the Houthis have refused to quit the city, despite an agreement signed with President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to make them a part of the government.
On Saturday, local media reported that Houthi gunmen surrounded the residence of the National Security Bureau Chief in Sana’a accusing the bureau of working closely with the US Central Intelligence Agency and demanding the chief's resignation.
The deadlock with the Houthis, a heavily-armed group who for years fought an on-off civil war with the Sana’a government, has alarmed Western and Arab allies who fear that further instability in the impoverished southern Arabian nation could unsettle the balance of power in the region and allow violent Islamist groups to prosper.
Threatening to pursue sanctions, America condemned the Houthi leadership in a State Department statement on Saturday for its aggressive actions and called on the group to hand over weapons to the state. It also accused politicians loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh's government of using violence to pursue their own agendas. Some Yemenis have recently accused Saleh of plotting a comeback.
High schools in Sana’a reopened on Monday after a week of clashes forced closures but residents of the capital say the city remains a dangerous place divided between militias who have set up checkpoints, some guarded by child soldiers, and turned government buildings and houses into makeshift garrisons.
On Sunday, Yemenis took to the streets of Sana’a to demand the withdrawal of the Houthis, in a first protest against the group since they overran the capital. Organisers say they had hoped for a turn-out of several thousand but only a few hundred showed up.
“The streets are ruled by men with guns, the government has failed,” said Sara Mohammed, a prominent activist. “In 2011, we had a voice but now most people just feel trapped between warring factions and fear civil war. Things have only got worse for us since the so-called Arab revolution.”