Saudi airstrikes target Yemeni rebels (dpa German Press Agency)

Sana’a/Riydah (dpa) – Saudi Arabia was Thursday engaged in a major military offensive against Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, the first of its kind since 2009.
The Sunni monarchy was supported by its Arab allies in the operation, which was launched late on Wednesday and involved mainly airstrikes.
Among the targets were military installations in the rebel-held Yemeni capital Sana’a, the official Saudi Press Agency SPA said, citing an unnamed military official.
The strikes destroyed the Houthis’ air defence facilities airbase in Sana’a and four Houthi warplanes.
No casualties or aircraft losses were reported among the Saudi-led coalition.
The offensive was launched after rebels and soldiers loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh swept into the southern city of Aden, the stronghold of Yemen’s embattled president, Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi.
At least 25 civilians were killed in a Saudi-led airstrike on a residential area near Sana’a airport, an official in the Health Ministry controlled by the Houthis said.
“Forty others have been wounded. This is an initial tally of the civilian victims,” the official told dpa without naming the location.
The reports could not be independently verified.
Saudi Arabia, which borders Yemen, has deployed 100 fighter jets, 150,000 soldiers and an unspecified number of navy units for the operation, according to Saudi-owned broadcaster Al Arabiya. It took control of Yemeni airspace before launching the airstrikes.
Other Arab countries, among them the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan, have also joined the fight against the Houthis, who have taken over large parts of Yemen in recent months.
Saudi Arabia last carried out airstrikes against Houthis strongholds in northern Yemen in 2009, after a deadly border attack.
Iran, a regional rival of Saudi Arabia, condemned the latest campaign.
“Resorting to military actions against Yemen, which is already engaged in internal conflict and fighting terrorism, will further complicate the situation, spread the extent of the crisis and squander opportunities to peacefully resolve internal disputes in Yemen,” a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry said in Tehran.
Gulf countries with Sunni majorities are worried that the collapse of Hadi’s rule in Yemen may entrench the regional influence of Shiite Iran, which is believed to be backing the Houthis.
Saudi Arabia said the the military action against the Houthis was in response to an appeal from Hadi, but a spokesman for the Houthis told the Doha-based broadcaster Al Jazeera that the Saudi-led operation in Yemen was a “declaration of war.”
Hadi’s government has repeatedly called on Arab allies for military intervention to halt the rebels’ territorial expansion.
Yemen is home to an active al-Qaeda offshoot, which has been the target of repeated airstrikes by US drones in recent years.
The White House has now authorized the provision of logistical and intelligence support to the anti-Houthi onslaught, a US National Security Council spokeswoman said.
Arab foreign ministers were discussing the situation in Yemen at a meeting in the Egyptian Red Sea resort town of Sharm al-Sheikh amid unconfirmed reports that Hadi had fled the country he has been ruling for three years.
Yemeni officials denied such reports, saying he was in a “safe location.”
The Houthis overran Sana’a in September and have since swept across Yemen, sparking deadly clashes with local Sunni tribes and al-Qaeda operatives.