Saudi-led coalition intensifies airstrikes against Yemeni rebels (dpa German Press Agency)

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  • March 29, 2015
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Sana’a/Cairo (dpa) – A Saudi-led coalition intensified airstrikes against Houthi rebel military targets in Yemen Sunday.
The Shiite rebels have taken control of large parts of the impoverished country and are seen as being backed by Iran, Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.
Coalition jets bombed a supply route used by the Shiite rebels in an area linking the central province of Baida and the southern province of Shabwa, according to Naser al-Kadem, a tribal leader in Shabwa. He did not report casualties.
However, Al-Kadem told dpa that dozens of the Houthis were killed in Behan, a key city of Shabwa, during fighting with tribal insurgents backing internationally recognized President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi.
“Attacks by tribes have forced the Houthi troops to retreat from Beihan,” he added.
The Houthis have attempted in the past three days to move through Shabwa to the energy-oil province of Mareb in the east.
Saudi Arabia and fellow Sunni Arab countries launched an air campaign in Yemen on Thursday targeting the Houthis, as well as allied forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The military action came after the Houthis and pro-Saleh troops advanced on the southern city of Aden, where Hadi had taken refuge after fleeing Sana’a.
Hadi is now in Saudi Arabia.
Earlier on Sunday, coalition warplanes mounted a series of strikes against the Houthis’ northern heartland, which borders Saudi Arabia.
The attacks targeted a major rebel outpost in Saada, where an arms depot and military vehicles were destroyed, residents in the area said.
There was no comment from the Houthis.
Since mid-2014, the Houthis have expanded from Saada into other parts of Yemen.
In September, they took control of the capital, Sana’a, and have since advanced across Yemen, leading to deadly fighting with local Sunni tribes and al-Qaeda militants.
The rebels have reportedly transferred most weaponry they captured to Saada, after having overrun several state military installations in recent months.
Arab leaders, concluding an annual meeting in Egypt on Sunday, backed the continuation of the military operation in Yemen, raising the prospect of a prolonged conflict.
The leaders, in a final statement, called on the rebels to withdraw from the territory they have seized and to hand over their weapons to the “constitutional, legitimate authorities.”
Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-ruled Gulf countries are worried that the collapse of Hadi’s government may entrench the regional influence of Iran.
Tehran has condemned the Saudi-led campaign, calling it a “dangerous step.”
The coalition air bombing focuses on destroying the Houthis’ supply convoys and routes, Saudi spokesman Brigadier General Ahmad Asiri said on Sunday.
“There will be no safe place for the Houthi concentrations,” he said in a televised briefing in Riyadh.
“The coalition air forces will increase their pressure on the Houthi militias,” he said, adding that there was no immediate plan for a ground operation.
Asiri said the coalition assisted Pakistan on Sunday in evacuating around 500 of its citizens from Yemen’s western city of Hodeida.
Pakistan said it had dispatched two jumbo jets to evacuate citizens stranded in Hodedia.
Nearly 3,000 Pakistani work in different parts of Yemen.
Pakistan has not decided yet whether to send its troops to take part in the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, a Defence Ministry official said.
The South Asian country would send troops only if rebels attack Saudi territory, the official told dpa, requesting anonymity.
Several Sunni and Shiite political groups have rallied in Pakistan to support and criticize the Saudi-led bombing in Yemen, reflecting how the conflict is likely to deepen Pakistan’s bloody sectarian divide.