Saudi air strikes target stronghold of Houthis

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Saudi air strikes target stronghold of Houthis

Target was rebel leader, military installations in six provinces

By (AP)

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Published: Fri 27 Mar 2015, 10:04 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 10:11 PM

Sanaa — Saudi Arabia bombed the northern stronghold of Yemen’s Shia rebels and key military installations on Friday as a coalition led by the Gulf kingdom carried out air strikes for a second day. The strikes hit at least six provinces, including an eastern area rich in oil and gas.

The military action is turning impoverished and chaotic Yemen into a new front in the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which supports the rebels known as Houthis.

Heavy air strikes early on Friday targeted Saada, the stronghold of the Houthis, focusing on locations where rebel leader Abdul Malik Al Houthi might be, military officials said. The grave of Al Houthi’s brother Hussein Al Houthi, founder of the rebel group, was demolished in the strikes.

Saudi warplanes also bombed the Al Sana army camp in the Arhab region northeast of Sanaa, run by commanders loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh enjoys the loyalty of some of the country’s strongest military units, who now fight alongside the Houthis.

Military officials said other strikes targeted army camps outside Sanaa in Al Dhale and Lahj provinces, including Al Annad base, where about 100 US military advisers had been based but were forced to withdraw last weekend due to deteriorating security conditions.

Strikes hit at least six provinces including Marib, an area of oil and gas wealth. The attacks there targeted and destroyed radars that the rebels could use to track Saudi warplanes.

In the capital of Sanaa, heavy air strikes came in waves overnight. Explosions rocked the city and anti-aircraft guns were heard returning fire. At least 18 civilians, including six children, have been killed and the casualty count was expected to rise.

Iran has denounced the Saudi-led air campaign, saying it “considers this action a dangerous step”.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said in a statement on Friday that Tehran was “ready to cooperate with its brothers in the region, to make it easier for different groups in Yemen to have dialogue to protect the integrity and facilitate restoration of stability the security in that country”.

In the air assault codenamed “Operation Decisive Storm,” Saudi Arabia deployed some 100 fighter jets, 150,000 soldiers and other navy units, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV reported.

According to defence officials in Washington, the US is providing refueling tankers and surveillance flights for the Saudi operations, and there are several US troops working in the operations centre to help with coordination. The White House has said the US was not joining with direct military action.

Rebel leader Al Houthi has accused the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel of launching a “criminal, unjust, brutal and sinful” campaign aimed at invading and occupying Yemen.

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi fled the country by boat on Wednesday and arrived in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh on Thursday after transiting through Oman. He was expected to attend a meeting of Arab leaders this weekend in the Egyptian town of Sharm El Sheikh.

Once the air strikes have weakened the rebels and their allies, a ground invasion of Yemen is planned by Egyptian, Saudi and other forces.

The assault will come from Saudi Arabia and by landings on Yemen’s coasts along the Red and Arabian seas, according to three Egyptian military and security officials.

Brig.-Gen. Ahmed Asiri, spokesman of Operation Decisive Storm, denied that a ground assault was part of the current operation but said the Saudis and its allies were ready “to deter any aggression of any kind”.

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