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Yemen's Shi'ite Houthi Rebels Capture Aden Airport

  • Edward Yeranian

People seek shelter from gunfire at an army base in Yemen's southern port city of Aden, March 25, 2015.

People seek shelter from gunfire at an army base in Yemen's southern port city of Aden, March 25, 2015.

Yemeni officials say forces loyal to the country's ousted president have captured the international airport in the city of Aden, hours after Yemen's current president fled his residence in that city.

Warplanes strafed the presidential palace complex in the southern capital of Aden on Wednesday, amid conflicting reports about the whereabouts of President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi.

Several sources report Hadi had fled Aden, as Houthi rebel fighters and allies loyal to former President Ali Abdallah Saleh were closing in on the city from the north.

Map of Aden, Yemen

Map of Aden, Yemen

There are conflicting reports on Hadi's whereabouts. Obama administration officials say they will not confirm reports that he has fled the country.

In a letter to the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday, Hadi asked for an emergency meeting and passage of a resolution allowing military intervention "to deter the aggression of the Houthi militias."

"All our efforts for peaceful settlement have encountered absolute rejection by the Houthis who continue their aggression to subdue the rest of the regions out of their control," Hadi wrote. "The Yemeni people have never faced such heinous aggression, which is against the basic principles of Islamic and international norms and conventions."

The attack by Yemeni warplanes -- coming from airbases controlled by Houthi rebels and their allies -- was the second in under a week. It came amid intense pressure by the Houthis to de-legitimize the president and to occupy territory controlled by his supporters.

Houthis advance

Also Wednesday, Shi'ite rebels said they arrested Defense Minister Mahmud al-Subaihi in the southern province of Lahj as they advanced toward Aden.

Aviation officials said the international airport in Aden suspended operations due to the security situation in the city.

Heavy fighting took place north of Aden between paramilitary units loyal to the president and forces opposed to him. Some reports put the invading Houthi forces and their allies at 25 kilometers north of the city, after the fall of the Anad airbase early Wednesday.

Witnesses inside Aden say government workers were told to stay home Wednesday as chaos engulfed parts of the city.

A Houthi militia commander said his men had captured territory controlled by [Sunni] takfiri militants trying to stop them from advancing into north-central Ma'arib province.

The United States condemned the military actions in Yemen that have "targeted President Hadi." The actions of the Houthis and ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who backs the Shi'ite rebels, "have caused widespread instability and chaos that threatens the well-being of all Yemenis," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

Call for intervention

Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyadh Yasin, in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el Sheikh, also told Arab media that Hadi has not left Aden. Yasin went on to urge Arab states to intervene in Yemen to prevent more of the country from falling to the Houthis.

He called for Arab states to intervene as quickly as possible to prevent Iran from gaining any further strategic advantage. He argued that the fall of Aden will give Iran a choke-hold near the Bab el Mandeb on the Red Sea, and he is demanding the Houthis withdraw from territory they have seized.

Map of Yemen showing areas of Houthi control and influence

Map of Yemen showing areas of Houthi control and influence

American University of Beirut political scientist Hilal Khashan told VOA he doubts any Arab state will want to get involved in a conflict in Yemen militarily.

"The Egyptians already have a very bad experience fighting in Yemen between 1962 and '67. It was their quagmire, it was their Vietnam and they will not repeat it," said Khashan.

"The Egyptians lost 40,000 troops in Yemen and they could not win the war. In 2009, the Saudis fought the Houthis on Saada Mountain and the Houthis occupied 20 Saudi villages and killed more than 200 Saudi soldiers,” said said Khashan.

Deputy Arab League leader Ahmed Ben Helli told Al Arabiya TV that Arab foreign ministers will discuss the crisis in Yemen at their meeting Thursday in Sharm el Sheikh.

Some Reuters information was used in this report.

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