Saudi Arabia launches strikes against Yemen rebels

2015-03-26 10:12
File: AFP

File: AFP

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Aden - Saudi Arabia carried out air strikes against Huthi rebels in Yemen on Thursday, launching an operation by a regional coalition to save the government of embattled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi as the country teetered on the brink of civil war.

The kingdom's ambassador to the United States announced from Washington that a coalition of 10 countries, including five Gulf monarchies, had been set up to protect the Yemeni government.

Washington said President Barack Obama had authorised the "provision of logistical and intelligence support" to the military operation.

Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE along with Saudi Arabia said they "have decided to answer the call of President Hadi to protect Yemen and his people from the aggression of the [Shiite] Huthi militia".

Saudi envoy Adel al-Jubeir did not name the other countries involved in the coalition.

'Firmness Storm'

Saudi SPA state news agency said Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan had all "expressed desire to participate in the operation" against the rebels, which the kingdom dubbed "Firmness Storm".

Al-Jubeir told reporters in Washington that the operation "is to defend and support the legitimate government of Yemen and prevent the radical Huthi movement from taking over the country".

He said that for the moment the action was confined to air strikes on various targets around Yemen, but that other military assets were being mobilised and that the coalition "would do whatever it takes".

"The Royal Saudi Air Force has taken out the Huthi air defences and destroyed numerous Huthi fighter planes," a Saudi advisor said, adding that air force "has pretty much secured most of the Yemeni air space and is now consolidating a wide no-fly zone".

Huge explosions

Military sources said the raids had hit rebel positions at various locations in Sanaa, including at al-Daylami airbase and the adjacent international airport in north Sanaa, as well as the presidential complex seized by the rebels in January.

Huge explosions were heard in Sanaa as strikes hit the airbase at Sanaa airport and other locations in the capital, an AFP correspondent reported.

In the south, residents reported hearing large blasts at Al-Anad main airbase, north of Aden, which was seized by anti-government forces Wednesday.

The rebels' television station Al-Massira aired an urgent call for medics in Sanaa to head to hospitals.

Aden under threat

The Saudi advisor said his country's defence minister warned the son of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, "who is commanding the attack on Aden that his forces face 'obliteration' if they continue their push toward Aden".

Saleh, who resigned in 2012 following a year of nationwide protests, is accused of allying with the rebels, relying on the loyalty of many army units that he built during his three-decade rule.

Acting foreign minister Riyad Yassin had warned in Egypt that the fall of the second city Aden would mean the "start of civil war" as he drummed up Arab military support for Hadi.

His comments came Wednesday as army units switched allegiance to the rebels and seized Aden's international airport.

Aides to Hadi said that the Western-backed president had been taken to a safe haven "within Aden", where he fled last month.

Washington said it had been in touch with Hadi and that he was no longer at his residence, but it was unable to say where he was.

Escalating turmoil

Yemen has been gripped by growing turmoil since the Shiite Huthi rebels launched a power takeover in Sanaa in February.

The strife has raised fears Yemen could be torn apart by a proxy war between Shiite Iran, accused of backing the rebels, and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, which supports Hadi.

The escalating turmoil in the country - which borders Saudi Arabia and lies close to key shipping routes - has also pushed up world oil prices on fears it could threaten Middle Eastern petroleum producers.

Hadi appealed to the UN Security Council on Tuesday to "shoulder its responsibilities... to safeguard Yemen from sliding into more chaos and destruction".

One of Hadi's advisers said Saleh was the man pulling the strings as the rebels advanced.

"The Huthis are puppets in the hands of Saleh," Riyadh-based Yassin Makkawi told AFP.

Dozens of people have been killed as the Huthis backed by troops allied to former strongman Saleh, have clashed with pro-Hadi forces as they push southwards.

'Dagger' in Saudi side

Yassin warned that domination by Iran would be a "dagger in the side of Saudi Arabia and the rest of countries of the Gulf".

His comments came after the Huthis said they had captured the defence minister in their push southwards deep into Lahj province, adjacent to Aden.

General Mahmud al-Subaihi, who escaped house arrest in Sanaa this month, had been seen as a vital ally of Hadi in charge of organising Aden's defence lines.

Missiles were fired from an unidentified warplane at Hadi's complex in Aden Wednesday, but only hit an abandoned building, a presidential security official said.

Yemen has allowed Washington to wage a long-standing drone war against Al-Qaeda in the country.

In his letter to the Security Council Tuesday, Hadi voiced concerns that Al-Qaeda would "seize the current instability to spark further chaos".

Read more on:    abedrabbo mansour hadi  |  yemen  |  saudi arabia

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