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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

North Closes Grip on Besieged Aden

DEN -- Machine-gun fire could be clearly heard Tuesday in the southern Yemeni stronghold of Aden as northern forces closed in on the vital airport of a city desperately short of water and gripped by fear, witnesses said. They said northern infantry were only two or three kilometers from the airport straddling the only road linking the mainland to Aden city peninsula, capital of those leaders who have declared an independent southern state. The besieged city's half a million residents, critically short of water, medicines and fresh food, cowered in homes overcrowded with refugees who had earlier fled the northern advance into south Yemen's countryside. Another resident spoke of "fear, panic and confusion" gripping the southern city as northern President Ali Abdullah Saleh's troops advanced slowly but surely in fierce fighting to within 10 kilometers of central Aden. The witnesses said that after the failure of an early morning attempt to infiltrate the airport Tuesday, a larger tank-supported force was trying to outflank the airport from the northeast but was meeting stiff resistance. They said the northerners had yet to capture the airport but there was no sign late Tuesday of the southern planes that were flying sorties against northerners up to lunchtime. Two French aid workers were injured, one seriously, when a northern shell hit the Aden Hotel, the main base of foreigners still in Aden and which lies next door to the airport. The witnesses said that as the fighting grew fiercer, residents increasingly feared bloody street battles with Aden's heavily armed defenders. "We fear bloody carnage," one resident said. The foreign minister of the breakaway state said that peace talks at the United Nations no longer served any purpose and the southern delegation was thinking of pulling out. Aden's people were being called to take up arms and fight. "Your city depends on you ... head to the positions of honor to defend your city," bellowed the loudspeaker from a car touring the largely deserted streets. The airport is closed to civilian traffic. But it is crucial in providing air power for the south's battle against numerically superior northern forces trying to crush the southern secession announced last May. Reports that the north had taken control of Mukalla, the south's second largest city and base of southern leader Ali Salem al-Baidh, further fueled anxiety in Aden. A northern statement in Sana'a said its forces had captured the airport, their tanks were near the Aden Hotel and their infantry was advancing toward Aden's central Crater district, where most people are sheltering. Southern troops brandishing Kalashnikov rifles could be seen deploying truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns at all main intersections, including the road leading to Crater.