Saudi-led coalition announces end to Yemen operation

Saudi-led coalition announces end to Yemen operation

Operation Restoring Hope begins with the goal to protect civilians, continuing to fight terrorism and continuing to facilitate the evacuation of foreign nationals.

By (Agencies)

Published: Thu 23 Apr 2015, 1:58 AM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 9:53 PM

A Saudi soldier fires a mortar towards Houthi movement position, at the Saudi border with Yemen. -Reuters

Dubai - The Saudi-led coalition bombing Yemen for almost a month announced on Tuesday the end to its military operation, but a Saudi spokesman said forces would continue to target the Houthi movement as necessary.

“Operation Decisive Storm has achieved its goals...(including) removing the threat to Saudi Arabia and neighbouring countries especially in terms of heavy weapons,” said a statement carried by Saudi state news agency SPA.

“With its end, the new Operation Restoring Hope begins with the following goals: continuing to protect civilians, continuing to fight terrorism and continuing to facilitate the evacuation of foreign nationals and to intensify relief and medical assistance to the Yemeni people.”

The announcement suggested that the nearly month-long campaign of heavy airstrikes would be scaled down, but the spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri, did not say they would stop. He said the coalition would continue to interdict rebel movements and protect civilians, without specifying how.

Speaking at a news conference in Riyadh, Asiri said the campaign’s objectives have been met as the rebels’ military capabilities had been destroyed, and that the operation would cease at midnight (2100 GMT).

The move suggests the campaign’s next phase is more political than military, especially after almost a month of bombing that destroyed or damaged heavy weaponry held by the Houthis’s allies in Yemen’s army, but that hostilities are not definitively over.

 “The coalition will continue to prevent the Houthi militias from moving or undertaking any operations inside Yemen,” Asiri told reporters in Riyadh.

“Operation Restore Hope has begun and it represents a combination of political, diplomatic and military action,” Asiri said.

He said the rebels no longer pose a danger to civilians and that the new phase, called “Renewal of Hope,” will focus on rebuilding the country while denying the rebels operational movement, protecting civilians, and supporting evacuation and relief operations.

“To implement this we will continue to have our operation,” he said. “Inside a city like Aden we will continue to protect civilians to prevent these militias from sustaining their operations,” he said, referring to the southern port city which has seen fierce fighting in recent weeks.

Asiri added that Saudi Arabia’s ground and naval forces would continue to guard its border with Yemen and interdict any shipments to the rebels, and he did not rule out future airstrikes against them.

The US-backed campaign by Saudi Arabia and its allies, mainly Gulf Arab countries, is aimed at crushing the Houthis and allied military units loyal to a former autocrat, who have taken over Sanaa and much of northern Yemen.

The ground fighting and the airstrikes have pushed Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, to the brink of collapse. The fighting has also taken on the appearance of a proxy war between Iran backing the Houthis, and Saudi Arabia.

Earlier on Tuesday, the coalition pounded Houthis and their allies, killing 20 fighters in the western city of Ibb as the civilian death toll rose to 38 from airstrikes the day before in the capital, Sanaa, officials said.

The rebels targeted in Ibb were assembling to head to Aden as reinforcements in the battle against forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled the country from Aden to Saudi Arabia last month, security officials said.

In Sanaa, the death toll from airstrikes on Monday targeting rebel depots and weapon caches in the Fag Atan mountains overlooking the city rose to 38, medical officials said. The strikes flattened houses and sent villagers fleeing for their lives.

The rebel-controlled Interior Ministry said 84 people were killed across the country in Monday’s airstrikes. The casualty figures could not be independently confirmed. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of arming the Houthis — a claim both Tehran and the rebels deny, though the Islamic Republic has provided political and humanitarian support to the group.

In remarks on Tuesday, Iranian President Hasan Rohani said the airstrikes in Yemen were prompted by Saudi’s failures elsewhere, causing what he called a “mental imbalance.”

Speaking to reporters before heading to Indonesia, Rohani mocked Saudi Arabia by calling it a country with dashed dreams in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

“All the failures have accumulated and caused mental and emotional imbalance for that country,” Rohani said.

The remarks came a day after the US Navy said aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt was steaming toward the waters off Yemen to beef up security and join other American ships that are prepared to intercept any Iranian vessels carrying weapons to the Houthis.

The deployment comes after a UN Security Council resolution last week imposed an arms embargo on Houthi leaders.

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