Middle East

Yemen conflict: Saudi Arabia ends air campaign

Media captionJeremy Bowen reports from the border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen

A Saudi Arabia-led coalition has ended its bombing campaign against rebels in Yemen having "achieved its military goals", officials say.

The month-long Decisive Storm campaign had targeted Houthi rebels but largely failed to halt their advance.

A new operation called Restoring Hope will focus on a political solution in Yemen and on counter-terrorism at home, the coalition said.

Iran welcomed the end of air strikes as a step forward.

Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia has accused Shia-led Iran of backing the Houthis, something Tehran denies.

Yemen has been in chaos since the Houthi, or Zaidi Shia, rebels, took control of the capital, Sanaa, in January and placed President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi under house arrest.

Media captionAs Orla Guerin reports, the streets of Aden are a dangerous place

Mr Hadi escaped and took refuge in Aden in February, but left the country at the end of March when the Houthis, backed by army units supporting former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, reached the outskirts of the southern port city.

Analysis: BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

The coalition's official objective was restoring the internationally recognised Yemeni president and destroying the Houthi rebels who overthrew him.

The wider objective was stopping what Saudi sources said was Shia Muslim Iran's plan to dominate another Arab country. Iran has denied the Saudi claim that it directed the Houthi militia - though it seems to have sent it arms.

The Saudis have claimed victory in the first stage of their campaign. But the Yemeni government has not been restored and the Houthi militia is still fighting supporters of the ousted government and still controls the capital.

The Americans have been getting increasingly concerned about the costs of the bombing campaign - especially the number of civilians being killed - and the fact that al-Qaeda in Yemen has been using the chaos to strengthen its position.

'Precise execution'

Saudi coalition spokesman Brig-Gen Ahmed al-Asiri told reporters in the capital Riyadh on Tuesday: "[The coalition] has ended Operation Decisive Storm based on a request by the Yemeni government and President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi."

Image caption An air strike on a bridge in the western city of Ibb reportedly killed 20 people on Tuesday
Image caption Brig-Gen Ahmed al-Asiri said the new campaign would be called Restoring Hope
Image caption The Saudis have also carried out operations along the border with Yemen

Gen Asiri said the campaign was ending at midnight and that the rebels no longer posed a threat to civilians.

He said: "Those objectives were achieved by very good planning, very precise execution, by the courage of our pilots, our sailors, our soldiers."

Gen Asiri said the Restoring Hope campaign would be aimed at rebuilding Yemen.

However, he said the coalition would still "continue to prevent the Houthi militias from moving or undertaking any operations inside Yemen".

Media captionWho's in charge in Yemen? Explained in 90 seconds

He said this would be "a combination of political, diplomatic and military action", without giving details.

The Saudi defence ministry said the air campaign had "removed threats to Saudi Arabia's security and that of neighbouring countries" by "destroying heavy weaponry and ballistic missiles which were seized by the Houthi militia".

Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham, quoted by the Isna news agency, welcomed the end of the air strikes, saying: "We had previously announced that there is no military solution to Yemen's crisis. Undoubtedly, the ceasefire and [an] end to killing innocent and defenceless people is a step forward."

Fresh air strikes had been carried out on Tuesday, with almost 30 people reported killed, many of them civilians.

At least 20 died when aircraft bombed a convoy of Houthi rebel fighters on a bridge in the western city of Ibb, residents and security sources said. Nine others were killed in the northern city of Haradh, near the Saudi border.

The US is sending the USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Normandy to the region but Pentagon spokesman Col Steven Warren said media reports that they would be there to intercept Iranian ships sending arms to rebels were "a bit over-cranked".