ADEN – Saudi Arabia carried out air strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen today, launching an operation by a regional coalition to save the government of embattled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi as the country teetered on the brink of civil war.
The airstrikes were announced by the Saudi ambassador to the United States, with Washington saying that President Barack Obama has authorised the â€œprovision of logistical and intelligence supportâ€ to the military operation.
The statement came as five Gulf states said they will answer Hadiâ€™s plea for intervention against the Shiite militia that has closed in on the city of Aden, where he took refuge after fleeing the capital Sanaa.
Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE along with Saudi Arabia said they â€œhave decided to answer the call of President Hadi to protect Yemen and his people from the aggression of the (Shiite) Houthi militia.â€
Saudi envoy Adel al-Jubeir told reporters in Washington that the operation â€œis to defend and support the legitimate government of Yemen and prevent the radical Houthi movement from taking over the country.â€
Al-Jubeir said that for the moment the action was confined to air strikes on various targets around Yemen, but that other military assets were being mobilised and that the coalition â€œwould do whatever it takes.â€
â€œThe Royal Saudi Air Force has taken out the Houthi air defences and destroyed numerous Houthi fighter planes,â€ a Saudi advisor said, adding that airforce â€œhas pretty much secured most of the Yemeni air space and is now consolidating a wide no-fly zone.â€
Military sources said rebel positions were hit at various locations in Sanaa, including at al-Daylami airbase and the adjacent international airport in north Sanaa, as well as the presidential complex seized by the rebels in January.
Huge explosions were heard in Sanaa as strikes hit the airbase at Sanaa airport and other locations in the capital, an AFP correspondent reported.
In the south, residents reported hearing large blasts at Al-Anad main airbase, north of Aden, which was seized by anti-government forces Wednesday.
Rebelsâ€™ television station Al-Massira aired an urgent call for medics in Sanaa to head to hospitals.
The Saudi advisor said his countryâ€™s defence minister has warned the son of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, â€œwho is commanding the attack on Aden that his forces face â€˜obliterationâ€™ if they continue their push toward Aden.â€
The former president, who resigned in 2012 following a year of nationwide protests, is accused of allying with the rebels, relying on the loyalty of many army units that he built during his three-decade rule.
Acting foreign minister Riyad Yassin had warned in Egypt that the fall of second city Aden would mean the â€œstart of civil warâ€ as he drummed up Arab military support for Hadi.
His comments came Wednesday as army units switched allegiance to the rebels and seized Adenâ€™s international airport.
Aides to Hadi said that the Western-backed president had been taken to a safe haven â€œwithin Adenâ€œ, where he fled last month.
Washington said it had been in touch with Hadi and that he was no longer at his residence, but it was unable to say where he was.
Yemen has been gripped by growing turmoil since the Shiite Houthi rebels launched a power takeover in Sanaa in February.
The strife has raised fears Yemen could be torn apart by a proxy war between Shiite Iran, accused of backing the rebels, and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, which supports Hadi.
The escalating turmoil in the country â€“ which borders Saudi Arabia and lies close to key shipping routes â€“ has also pushed up world oil prices on fears it could threaten Middle Eastern petroleum producers.
Hadi appealed to the UN Security Council on Tuesday to â€œshoulder its responsibilities… to safeguard Yemen from sliding into more chaos and destruction.â€
One of Hadiâ€™s advisers said Saleh was the man pulling the strings as the rebels advanced.
â€œThe Houthis are puppets in the hands of Saleh,â€ the Riyadh-based Yassin Makkawi told AFP.
Dozens of people have been killed as the Huthis backed by troops allied to former strongman Saleh, have clashed with pro-Hadi forces as they push southwards.
Yassin warned that domination by Iran would be a â€œdagger in the side of Saudi Arabia and the rest of countries of the Gulf.â€
His comments came after the Huthis said they had captured the defence minister in their push southwards deep into Lahj province, adjacent to Aden.
General Mahmud al-Subaihi, who escaped house arrest in Sanaa this month, had been seen as a vital ally of Hadi in charge of organising Adenâ€™s defence lines.
Missiles were fired from an unidentified warplane at Hadiâ€™s complex in Aden Wednesday, but only hit an abandoned building, a presidential security official said.
Yemen has allowed Washington to wage a long-standing drone war against Al-Qaeda in the country.
In his letter to the Security Council Tuesday, Hadi voiced concerns that Al-Qaeda will â€œseize the current instability to spark further chaos.â€ – AFP