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Saudi Airstrikes Target Rebels in Yemen03/26 06:20

   SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Saudi Arabia bombed key military installations in Yemen 
on Thursday after announcing a broad regional coalition to oust Shiite rebels 
that forced the country's embattled president to flee. Some of the strikes hit 
positions in the country's capital, Sanaa, and flattened a number of homes near 
the international airport.

   The airstrikes, which had the support of nine other countries, drew a strong 
reaction from Iran which called the operation an "invasion" and a "dangerous 
step" that will worsen the crisis in the country.

   Iran "condemns the airstrikes against Yemen this morning that left some 
innocent Yemenis wounded and dead and considers this action a dangerous step," 
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said in a statement. She said 
military action would complicate and worsen the crisis in Yemen.

   "This invasion will bear no result but expansion of terrorism and extremism 
throughout the whole region," she said.

   The Saudi airstrikes came hours after President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a 
close U.S. ally, fled Yemen by sea after rebels pushed their way toward the 
southern port city of Aden where he had taken refuge.

   The back-and-forth between the regional heavyweights was threatening to turn 
impoverished Yemen into a proxy battle between the Middle East's Sunni powers 
and Shiite-led Iran.

   Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya News reported that the kingdom had deployed 100 
fighter jets, 150,000 soldiers and other navy units in "Operation Decisive 
Storm."

   The Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, were calling on their supporters to 
protest in the streets of Sanaa on Thursday afternoon, Yemen's 
Houthi-controlled state news agency SABA reported. TV stations affiliated with 
the rebels and their ally, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, showed the 
aftermath of the strikes Thursday morning in what appeared to be a residential 
area.

   Al-Masirah TV, affiliated with the Houthis, quoted the ministry of health as 
saying that 18 civilians were killed and 24 were injured.

   Yemen Today, a TV station affiliated with Saleh, showed hundreds of 
residents congregating around a number of flattened houses, some chanting 
"Death to Al-Saud", in reference to the kingdom's royal family. The civilians 
were sifting through the rubble, pulling out mattresses, bricks and shrapnel.

   An Associated Press reporter on the scene in the Sanaa neighborhood near the 
international airport saw people searching for loved ones in the debris of 
flattened homes. Residents said at least three bodies were pulled from the 
rubble. There were traces of blood between the bricks.

   Ahmed al-Sumaini said an entire alley close to the airport was wiped out in 
the strikes overnight. He said people ran out from their homes in the middle of 
the night. "This was a surprise. I was asleep and I was jolted out of my bed," 
he said, waving a piece of shrapnel.

   In addition to the airport, targets included the camp of U.S.-trained Yemeni 
special forces, which is controlled by generals loyal to Saleh. Yemeni security 
officials said the targets also included a missile base in Sanaa that was 
controlled by the Houthis earlier this year. One of the security officials said 
the strikes also targeted the fuel depot at the base.

   The Houthis said in a statement that Saudi jets hit the military base, known 
as al-Duleimi, and that they responded with anti-aircraft missiles.

   The strikes also hit the al-Annad air base in the southern Lahj province. 
About 100 U.S. military advisers withdrew over the weekend from base, where 
they had been leading a drone campaign against al-Qaida in the Arabian 
Peninsula, or AQAP.

   The crumbling of Hadi's government is a blow to Washington's 
counterterrorism strategy against al-Qaida's branch in Yemen, considered to be 
the most powerful in the terrorist network.

   The security officials spoke on condition of anonymity, because they were 
not authorized to brief journalists.

   Riad Yassin, Yemen's foreign minister, told Saudi's Al-Hadath TV that the 
airstrikes were welcomed.

   "I hope the Houthis listen to the sound of reason. With what is happening, 
they forced us into this," he said.

   Saudi ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir announced the military 
operation in a news conference in Washington. He said his government had 
consulted closely with the U.S. and other allies but that the U.S. military was 
not involved in the operations.

   The White House said in a statement late Wednesday that the U.S. was 
coordinating military and intelligence support with the Saudis but not taking 
part directly in the strikes.

   Other regional players were involved in the Saudi operation: The United Arab 
Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain joined Saudi Arabia in a statement 
published by the Saudi Press Agency, saying they would answer a request from 
Hadi "to protect Yemen and his dear people from the aggression of the Houthi 
militias which were and are still a tool in the hands of foreign powers that 
don't stop meddling with the security and stability of brotherly Yemen." Oman, 
the sixth member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, didn't sign onto the 
statement.

   Egypt also announced political and military support, saying it is ready to 
send ground troops if necessary. Jordan confirmed it was participating in the 
operation. Pakistan, Morocco and Sudan were also taking part, the Saudi Press 
Agency reported Thursday.

   Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies believe the Houthis are tools for Iran to 
seize control of Yemen and say they intend to stop the takeover. The Houthis 
deny they are backed by Iran.

   Yemen now faces fragmentation, with Houthis controlling much of the north, 
including the capital of Sanaa, and several southern provinces. In recent days, 
they took the third-largest city, Taiz, as well as much of the province of 
Lahj, both just to the north of Aden.

   The Houthis are backed by Saleh, the autocrat who ruled Yemen for three 
decades until he was removed amid a 2011 Arab Spring uprising. Some of the 
best-equipped and trained military and security units remained loyal to Saleh 
and they have helped the Houthis in their rapid advance.

   Hadi left Sanaa for Aden earlier this month after escaping house arrest 
under the Houthis, who overran the capital six months ago. In Aden, he had 
sought to make a last stand, claiming it as the temporary seat of what remained 
of his government, backed by allied militias and loyal army units.

   With Houthis and Saleh forces closing in on multiple fronts, Hadi and his 
aides left Aden Wednesday on two boats in the Gulf of Aden, security and port 
officials told AP. The officials would not specify his destination.

   Arab leaders are meeting in Egypt this weekend for a pre-planned summit. It 
is unclear if Hadi will join them.


(KA)


 
 
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