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Arab Coalition Presses Air Campaign Against Shi'ites in Yemen

  • VOA News

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, right, meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi after his arrival to attend an Arab summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, March 27, 2015.

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, right, meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi after his arrival to attend an Arab summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, March 27, 2015.

Saudi-led coalition airstrikes pounded southern Yemen for a third day Saturday as international diplomats and U.N. staff fled from Aden, the main southern city that is the focus of fighting between militias loyal to the Sana'a government and Houthi rebels backed by Iran.

The coalition said it was now in full control of Yemen's airspace after destroying almost all ground-to-air missiles in the Houthis' arsenal around Aden and Sana'a. Reports from Aden itself, however, told of chaotic conditions on the ground, with looters pillaging government facilities and some Yemeni troops switching their allegiance to the rebels.

Yemeni military officials said an explosion at an arms depot in Aden that had been taken over by Shi'ite forces killed several people. One account, from the French news agency AFP, said more than 60 people had been killed in and around Aden since Thursday and over 200 others had been wounded.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman Bin Abdel Aziz told an Arab League summit Saturday that the military campaign would not stop until Yemen's security and stability were restored.

The Yemeni president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, also addressed the regional leaders at the summit. He denounced his Shi'ite opponents, most of whom are members of Yemen's Houthi ethnic group, as "puppets" and "stooges" of Iran. For its part, Iran contends it has not funded or trained the Shi'ite forces in Yemen.

Aden is Yemen's second-largest city and has been Hadi's provisional headquarters since January, when he was forced out of Sana'a by Houthi fighters who seized control of the capital in the north. In addition to airstrikes Saturday against Houthi positions around Aden, coalition warplanes have bombed rebel targets near Sana'a's main airport.

Saudi Arabia said its navy had evacuated scores of diplomats from Aden and had a naval blockade of the city in place. Saudi air forces were said to be preparing an airlift to rescue dozens of U.N. staff pinned down by fighting in Sana'a.

The Arab League summit at Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, which will continue Sunday, has been dominated by the Yemen crisis. Saudi Arabia, speaking for the 10-nation coalition arrayed against the Shi'ite Houthis in Yemen, is pressing for reinstatement of Hadi's internationally recognized government.

Yemen's foreign minister said Saturday that Hadi intended to stay abroad until the situation in his country settled down.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi said Egypt welcomed a draft resolution before the Arab League calling for creation of a joint Arab military force to confront regional security threats.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the regional leaders, however, that the only way to prevent a long-term conflict in Yemen is through negotiations under United Nations auspices.

Yemen has been stuck in violence and chaos since a popular uprising ousted longtime strongman President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012.

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