Middle East

Yemen crisis: Saudis lead fresh air strikes on Houthis

Supporters of President Hadi in Aden Image copyright AFP
Image caption President Hadi's supporters have been trying to hold off a rebel advance on Aden

Warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition are bombing Yemen for a third night, targeting Shia Houthi rebels as they advance in and around the port of Aden.

The rebel advance has sparked street battles with forces loyal to President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, who fled Aden and is now at an Arab League summit.

Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh - whose supporters are fighting alongside the rebels - has called for a truce.

But Saudi Arabia has vowed to defend Mr Hadi's government from the rebels.

Obama reaffirms support

The Sunni kingdom has accused its regional rival, Shia-led Iran, of backing the Houthis.

It has mobilised a coalition, including Gulf Arab states and Egypt, to roll back the rebels' advance in a mission codenamed Operation Decisive Storm.

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Media captionThe BBC's Jeremy Bowen: "The Gulf states will find that victory in Yemen's wars do not come easily or quickly"

US President Barack Obama spoke to Saudi King Salman on Friday and reaffirmed his support for the military action, the White House said in a statement.

Mr Obama and King Salman agreed their goal is to achieve lasting stability in Yemen through a negotiated political solution, the statement said.

The US military rescued two Saudi pilots who ejected from their F-15 fighter jet over the Gulf of Aden, a US defence official said on Friday.

He said the two were rescued in international waters at 21:20 GMT by a helicopter from Djibouti after Saudi Arabia requested assistance.

A statement on the Saudi SPA news agency said the plane had been hit by a technical fault.

Fleeing the capital

During Friday, warplanes carried out raids on Yemen's rebel-held capital, Sanaa, as well as on the Houthis' northern heartland of Saada.

The raids targeted arms depots and military bases as well as buildings used by Houthi leaders, residents and military officials said.

Since the air campaign began, at least 39 civilians - including six children under the age of 10 - have been killed, Yemen health ministry officials say.

A resident of Sanaa, Mohammed al-Jabahi, told AFP news agency that his family had spent the night in fear.

"Whenever a plane flies over our home and is met by anti-aircraft gunfire, my three children run to a corner and start screaming and crying," he said.

People have been fleeing the capital, with long queues at petrol stations, and many shops and firms have shut.

Meanwhile, the rebels have gained their first foothold on the Arabian Sea coast by seizing the town of Shaqra, 100 km (60 miles) east of Aden, residents told Reuters news agency.

The move gives the rebels control over all the land routes to Aden, a stronghold of forces loyal to Mr Hadi.

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Media captionYemen's Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin: "This is a short sharp campaign"

Mr Hadi took refuge in the second city of Aden last month after fleeing Sanaa, where he had been under house arrest since the rebels took full control of the capital in January.

On Thursday he fled to Saudi Arabia, from where he travelled to Egypt on Friday to attend an Arab League summit, likely to be dominated by the crisis in Yemen.

In an interview with the BBC at the summit on Thursday night, Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin said no-one was happy about the intervention by the Saudi-led coalition.

But he added: "I think if they completed their mission in the coming few days or few hours it will be stopped. It is a short, sharp campaign which really we have been forced to request."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption President Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia from where he travelled to Egypt for an Arab League summit

Mr Yassin said he did not know if Arab leaders would approve a ground offensive, which coalition members have said they are prepared to launch if the raids fail to halt the rebels' advance and force them to negotiate.

Rebel leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi has vowed not to surrender to what he called the "unjustified aggression".

Iran has also criticised the Saudi intervention. "They have to stop," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Friday.

"Everybody has to encourage dialogue and national reconciliation in Yemen rather than making it more difficult for Yemenis to come together."

Meanwhile, Mr Saleh, whose supporters are fighting alongside the Houthis, has called for a ceasefire, followed by negotiations.

Yemen has been wracked by instability since the former president stepped down amid massive protests in 2012.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption There have been clashes between rebel fighters and militiamen loyal to President Hadi in Aden

The country's conflict has inflamed sectarian rivalries in the region. In Lebanon, the leader of the powerful Shia Hezbollah militia, Hassan Nasrallah, mocked the Saudi-led offensive.

"Should the region go to war because of Saudi money?" he asked. He said Iran had expanded its influence because the Saudis were "lazy, losers, and... don't take responsibility".

Rebel forces are still fighting Popular Resistance Committees militiamen and Sunni tribesmen loyal to President Hadi in the south.

Saudi and Egyptian warships are also believed to have been deployed to the Bab al-Mandab strait to secure the strategic passage between the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

On Friday, at least 21 Houthis were killed when they were ambushed about 15km (9 miles) north of Aden, witnesses told AFP. Another eight people reportedly died in clashes around Aden's international airport.

The Houthis have said their aim is to replace Mr Hadi's government, which they accuse of being corrupt, and to implement the outcomes of a National Dialogue that was convened after President Saleh was forced to hand over power in 2011.


Yemen - who is fighting whom?

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Soldiers and militiamen loyal to the president failed to halt rebel forces advancing southwards

The Houthis: Zaidi Shia-led rebels from the north, who seized control of Sanaa last year and have since been expanding their control

President Hadi: Fled to Saudi Arabia after rebel forces advanced on his stronghold in the southern city of Aden

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula: Seen by the US as the most dangerous offshoot of al-Qaeda, AQAP opposes both the Houthis and President Hadi.

Islamic State: A Yemeni affiliate of IS has recently emerged, which seeks to eclipse AQAP

Failure 'not an option for Saudis'

Yemen crisis: An Iranian-Saudi battleground?

Yemen: Waiting for the war

Meeting the Houthis - and their enemies

The rise of Yemen's Houthi rebels


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