SANAA, Yemen (AP) — A World Food Program ship carrying badly needed aid arrived in Yemen's war-torn southern city of Aden on Tuesday, the first vessel chartered by the U.N. agency to be able to berth there since Saudi-led airstrikes on Shiite rebels in the country began in March.
In a statement, the WFP said the ship that arrived Tuesday carries 3,000 metric tons (3,300 tons) of food for people in contested southern governorates.
"This is a major breakthrough for our humanitarian response," WFP regional director Muhannad Hadi said. "While we have been able to reach several southern areas by land, docking at the port of Aden allows us to accelerate our response to meet urgent needs."
The group had tried repeatedly to send ships to Aden, but all had been previously blocked by severe fighting in the port area.
Vessels landed in another nearby port, and aid was delivered by road. The last such road delivery arrived in July 14 for around 27,000 people. The new shipment can feed up to 180,000 people, and more vessels carrying much-needed fuel and food are planned in the coming days.
"If conditions remain safe enough, as they are now, we will be able to have other ships arrive safely and offload," said Dina el-Kassaby, also of WFP.
Coordination is also needed with the Saudi-led coalition, which has imposed a sea and air blockade on Yemen since it began its airstrikes.
The fighting in Yemen pits the Houthis and troops loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against southern separatists, local and tribal militias, Sunni Islamic militants and loyalists of exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is now based in Saudi Arabia.
The rebels seized Sanaa in September. Fierce fighting in Aden broke out in March, sparking the Saudi-led airstrikes. More than 1,690 civilians have been killed since then, the United Nations said Tuesday.
On the ground, fighting continues. Security officials and witnesses said that battles just east of Aden killed some 20 rebels and around 10 of their adversaries. Coalition aircraft launched dozens of raids north of the city, destroying tanks and Katyusha rocket launchers.
In the northern Aden neighborhood of Dar Saad, rebels have indiscriminately shelled it for days, killing over 100. On Tuesday, a shell landed on a shack in Dar Saad, killing a family of seven and a woman in her 70s who was near the house, medical officials and an eyewitness said.
The governor of Aden, Nayef al-Bakri, said pro-Hadi army units and local allies had managed to take full control of the city, adding that authorities were working to restore basic utilities. Al-Bakri also said in a statement that Aden was now preparing to absorb the incoming aid ships, and that a technical team from the United Arab Emirates was working to repair and reopen its international airport.
Although fighting has subsided in Aden, there were some reports of summary killings of rivals at the hands of local fighters.
On Monday, local militias patrolling the Crater neighborhood in Aden came under fire as they attempted to storm a house. A member of the militia said a rebel sniper shot and killed one his colleagues from inside.
The militia member said his force stormed the house and seized seven rebel fighters, wounding three of them. He said the rebels were dragged to a local cemetery, shot and buried in one hole. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was afraid of retribution.
Militia fighters in Dar Saad said a number of rebel fighters were taken hostage and handed over to Islamist fighters, who ultimately killed them. In pictures posted on Twitter accounts of Islamic State supporters, a purported local affiliate of the group claimed Friday to have killed a number of Houthi fighters in Crater, showing pictures of nearly a dozen men blindfolded and handcuffed on the floor.
In March, just before a Saudi-led coalition began its airstrike campaign, the Islamic State affiliate in Yemen claimed responsibility for a series of suicide bombings in Sanaa targeting Shiites. American officials initially expressed skepticism that the affiliate existed, as Yemen is also home to the world's most dangerous al-Qaida offshoot.
Ground operations to push the rebels further north from Aden continued Tuesday, the officials said, with missiles, ground forces and airstrikes blasting rebel strongholds.
Another aid ship, from UAE, also arrived in Aden later in the day, carrying 2,315 tons (2,100 metric tons) of medical and food aid, security and shipping officials said, adding that oil had arrived at the port for the city's refinery.
Also Tuesday, the UAE's military said that a non-commissioned officer, Saif Youssef Ahmed al-Falasi, was killed while taking part in the Saudi-led operation in Yemen. The announcement, carried by state news agency WAM, did not disclose the cause of death or provide further details.
The Gulf nation last week announced the death of another soldier participating in the operation, 1st Lt. Abdulaziz Sarhan Saleh al-Kaabi.
Associated Press writers Sarah El Deeb in Cairo and Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.