Yemen FM urges swift end to air strikes on Houthis

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Media caption,
Yemen's Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin: "This is a short sharp campaign"

Yemen's foreign minister has said air strikes being carried out by a Saudi-led coalition against Shia Houthi rebels should end as soon as possible.

Riad Yassin told the BBC a "short, sharp" campaign was needed to weaken the rebels, who have forced President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to flee abroad.

Fresh overnight air raids reportedly targeted a number of Houthi positions.

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

Regional Shia power Iran, who Mr Yassin accused of backing the rebels, has also denounced the US-backed air strikes.

"They have to stop. Everybody has to encourage dialogue and national reconciliation in Yemen rather than making it more difficult for Yemenis to come together," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said.

Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia has said its main objective is to "protect the government in Aden".

'Graveyard of invaders'

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.

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

On Friday, Mr Hadi travelled from Saudi Arabia to Egypt to attend an Arab League summit in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

In an interview with the BBC at the summit on Thursday evening, Mr 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 source, 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.

Sanaa was again rocked by explosions and anti-aircraft fire overnight. Warplanes bombed bases around the city used by units of the security forces allied to the rebels, as well as al-Anad air base in Lahj province, from which US military advisers were evacuated last week.

Regional media reaction

Headline in Al-Thawrah, a Yemeni newspaper which used to back the government but now backs the Houthis: "We will not kneel down and the aggressor will pay the price".

Saudi newspaper Ukaz: "Operation Storm of Resolve... means that a new force is being born, one that will positively contribute to balancing the region so that peace prevails."

Nadir Bakar of Egypt's Salafist Al-Nour Party writes in newspaper Al-Shuruq: "The Arabs have finally acted. Decisiveness has become their only option to save Yemen from falling into the chaos of a civil war."

Kuwaiti daily Al-Ray: "The Gulf has been forced to go into war despite its heavy price and painful results. If it had not been for the US administration's policy in the region, the Gulf would not have faced the hard choice."

Iranian conservative news agency Fars, in English: "The US-backed and Saudi-led campaign to unravel Yemen is foolish. To a large degree, the wide-scale bombing campaign is supposed to be the answer to all their shortcomings in the region. Quite the opposite, it will be a total failure."

Source: BBC Monitoring

Meanwhile, air strikes in the Houthis' northern heartland of Saada targeted arms depots and the movement's 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, health ministry officials say.

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

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

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

Saudi and Egyptian warships were 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.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
There have been clashes between rebel fighters and militiamen loyal to President Hadi in Aden
Image source, AP
Image caption,
The Houthis have been protesting against the Saudi-led campaign

In addition to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan are contributing aircraft to "Operation Storm of Resolve", while Egypt, Jordan and Sudan were ready to take part in any ground offensive, Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV reported on Wednesday.

The channel also claimed that Pakistan was prepared to send troops, but on Friday the country's defence minister said it had made no decision.

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 Mr Hadi's predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to hand over power in 2011.

In a televised address on Thursday night, Abdul Malik al-Houthi said: "If any armies come to occupy, the Yemeni people will prove once again that Yemen is the graveyard of invaders."

Image source, 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