SANAA, Yemen -- Al-Qaida's Yemen branch routed government forces from a large weapons depot in the country's east yesterday, seizing dozens of tanks, Katyusha rocket launchers and small arms, security officials said, as airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition intensified in the capital, Sanaa, and also in Yemen's second-largest city.
The seized depot is located in Mukalla, the capital of Hadramawt -- Yemen's largest province where al-Qaida has been consolidating its control. Only the day before, the militants captured a major airport, an oil terminal and the area's main military base.
The gains highlight how al-Qaida has exploited the chaos in Yemen, where Shia rebels are battling forces loyal to exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
The Saudi-led air campaign in support of Hadi, now in its fourth week, has so far failed to halt the rebels' advance.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as the Yemeni affiliate is known, is widely seen as the global network's most dangerous franchise and has been linked to several failed attacks on the United States. The group claimed responsibility for the attack on a French satirical magazine in Paris earlier this year.
However, the Saudi-led air campaign has not targeted areas with an al-Qaida presence, including Hadramawt, where the militant group has long been implanted despite U.S. drone strikes and Yemeni counterterrorism operations. The coalition says the airstrikes are aimed at the rebels, known as Houthis, not al-Qaida.
Last night, hundreds of al-Qaida supporters and fighters gathered at a theater in Mukalla to celebrate their victories in the Hadramawt region, singing war songs and chanting slogans.
Pro-Hadi forces gained some ground elsewhere in Hadramawt yesterday, with fighters capturing the province's Masila oil field, the country's largest, commander Ahmed Bammas said over the telephone.
On the other side of the country, Saudi-led coalition airstrikes targeting the rebels intensified, with bombings in Sanaa and also Taiz, the country's second-largest city.
The levels of the bombings were their most intense since the campaign started on March 26, the security officials said.
Thick plumes of smoke rose high above Sanaa as weapons stores in mountains overlooking the city exploded and burned, while local residents continued to flee the violence, the officials said.
Meanwhile, the United Nations urged the international community to provide $274 million in aid to help save lives and protect some 7.5 million people affected by Yemen's conflict.