Yemen crisis: President calls for Saudi-led military campaign to continue until rebels surrender

Yemen crisis: President calls for Saudi-led military campaign to continue until rebels surrender

Yemen crisis: President calls for Saudi-led military campaign to continue until rebels surrender

Updated 29 March 2015, 6:50 AEDT

Yemeni president Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi calls for a Saudi-led military intervention in his country to continue until Shiite Houthi rebels surrender and their leaders are brought to justice.

Yemeni president Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi has called for a Saudi-led military intervention in his country to continue until Shiite Houthi rebels surrender and their leaders are brought to justice.

"I call for this operation to continue until this gang surrenders and withdraws from all locations it has occupied in every province," he told an Arab summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Saudi king Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud said the military campaign would continue until its targets are achieved.

Mr Hadi demanded the Houthi rebels surrender their heavy weapons and "their leaders turn themselves in to face justice".

"I say to Iran's puppet and whoever is with him, you are the one who destroyed Yemen with your political immaturity," Mr Hadi said, in an apparent reference to rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Huthi.

Mr Hadi called on the Yemeni army to protect state institutions and carry out the orders of the "legitimate leadership".

"Your responsibility today is preserving security and stability, protecting state institutions ... and carrying out the orders of your legitimate leadership," he said.

Coalition spokesman General Ahmed Assiri said airstrikes have destroyed "most" missile capabilities of the Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies.

"We believe that we have destroyed most of these capabilities, but we will continue targeting these missiles wherever [they may be]," he told reporters in Riyadh.

"Since we started operations we are continuing to target this kind of missile.

"We target their storage."

Yemen's foreign minister Riyadh Yaseen said Arab ground forces may be needed in the next phase of a Saudi-led operation.

Gulf diplomatic officials said Arab air strikes against Iranian-backed rebels could last up to six months.

Initially Saudi Arabia and its allies had anticipated a one-month air campaign but an official said "it could last five to six months".

He said the three-day-old campaign had been successful so far, destroying targets including 21 Scud missiles.

He accused Iran of providing "logistical and military support" to the Shiite rebels.

"According to estimates, there are 5,000 Iranians, Hezbollah and Iraqi militia on the ground in Yemen," he said.

It was not possible to independently verify the claim.

United Nations calls for peaceful resolution

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon urged Arab leaders to resolve the conflict peacefully.

"It is my fervent hope that at this Arab League summit, leaders will lay down clear guidelines to peacefully resolve the crisis in Yemen," he told the summit in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Gulf diplomats said Saudi Arabia and its allies had decided to intervene in Yemen after satellite imagery in late January showed the movement of Scud missiles north towards the Saudi border, with the capacity to strike a large part of the kingdom's territory.

The officials said they feared an "Iranian reaction" to their air campaign — not military action to defend the Houthis but in the form of destabilising measures.

"Iran will respond with terrorist acts in the Gulf," the official said.

He said an Iranian response could be felt in particular in Bahrain — a Sunni-ruled kingdom with a Shiite majority — and Saudi Arabia's Shiite-populated Eastern Province, or even in Gulf capitals.

Saudi-led air strikes hit Houthi fighters

Residents said Saudi-led air forces struck a convoy of Yemeni Houthi fighters advancing on Aden from the east on Saturday.

They said a Houthi convoy of armoured vehicles, tanks and military trucks heading along the coastal road to Aden from Shaqra was targeted by warplanes before dawn on Saturday and a number of vehicles were hit.

Yemen crisis at a glance:

  • Yemen's autocratic leader Ali Abdullah Saleh loses power in the wave of 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.
  • Nation embarks on political transition based on an agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
  • The Houthi, or Ansarullah Islamist group, claims the mantle of a national revolution and sweeps southwards, seizing Sanaa.
  • Sunni Islamist parties loyal to president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi reject the rebels' takeover.
  • Al Qaeda militants join forces with some tribal opponents of the Houthis in a series of deadly clashes.
  • Fighting temporarily displaces about 100,000 people in 2014, according to the United Nations.
  • Corruption and lack of basic services and infrastructure remain huge problems for the impoverished country.
Source: Reuters, AFP, The World Bank

There was no immediate comment from the Houthis, and no details on any casualties were available.

On Friday, the Houthis and allied army units gained their first foothold on Yemen's Arabian Sea coast by seizing the port of Shaqra, 100 kilometres east of Aden, allowing them to open a new front to march on the south's main city.

With the prospect looming that Mr Hadi could lose his last refuge in Yemen, Saudi Arabia's navy evacuated dozens of diplomats from Aden, Saudi state television reported.

It said the foreign envoys had been safely shipped to Saudi Arabia's Red Sea port of Jeddah.

UN staff were among more than 200 officials from foreign embassies and other organisations evacuated, aid workers said.

A health official said at least nine people were killed when a series of heavy explosions at an arms depot rocked Aden on Saturday.

Witnesses said the blasts were heard across the city and plumes of smoke visible.

Yemen's Houthi rebels made broad gains in the country's south and east on Friday despite the Saudi-led air strikes.

A senior health official said at least 61 people had been killed in three days of fighting between Shiite rebels and rival militia in Aden.