CAIRO - Saudi-led coalition warplanes launched dozens of airstrikes Saturday against the Houthi rebel stronghold of Saada, hitting the homes of several Houthi leaders and damaging a number of buildings, including a historic mosque. Saudi Arabia says it is responding to Houthi shelling of two Saudi border towns in recent days.
The Houthi rebels' al-Masira TV showed a crowd of young men digging through the rubble of a building which it claimed was hit by a Saudi coalition warplane early Saturday. More than a hundred airstrikes were reported overnight against Houthi rebel targets.
Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV reported that coalition warplanes struck the homes of at least seven Houthi militia commanders, killing several. The TV service also claimed that warplanes struck a Houthi arms depot west of their stronghold of Saada and Houthi vehicles along the border.
Saudi media has dubbed the latest air campaign against Houthi targets “Operation Nejran Eruption,” to signify retaliation for Houthi shelling of Saudi border towns earlier in the week. Saudi military spokesman General Ahmed Asiri indicated the strikes were a direct response:
He said that Houthi rebel attacks against Saudi citizens in the towns of Nejran and Jezzan have changed the nature of the ongoing conflict, putting Saudi Arabia in a state of defense of its citizens, cities and border, thus provoking a response by the coalition.
Houthi media claimed Saudi-led airstrikes destroyed the tomb of the group's historic leader Hussein Badr ed Din Houthi. Photos showed what looked like the tomb, reduced to rubble. Houthi media also claimed Saudi planes damaged the historic Imam Hadi mosque in Saada.
A Yemeni religious leader, Shamseddin Sharafeddin, blasted the Saudi air campaign, claiming that it was targeting ordinary citizens:
He claims that everyone is becoming a target of the strikes and curses Saudi leaders for attacking Yemen.
The Saudi military dropped leaflets Friday, urging residents of the Houthi stronghold of Saada to leave their homes by nightfall, before planned airstrikes.?
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir indicated during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris Friday that his country would accept a cease-fire in Yemen beginning Tuesday, if the Houthi rebels abided by certain conditions.
Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches at the University of Paris, tells VOA that it was hoped the cease-fire would go into effect before U.S. President Barack Obama met with Saudi King Salman in Washington, Tuesday, and the Camp David Summit of top Gulf leaders:
He said that the Saudis agreed to a cease-fire, but on the condition that the Houthis accept its terms, and (Kerry) offered to to act as intermediary with Iran. He argues that the Iranians have tried unsuccessfully to break the air blockade of Sana'a airport and are now trying to send what they claim is an aid ship to a Yemeni port to defy the Saudis and test U.S. reaction.
Iranian officials indicated Saturday that they were sending a ship from the port of Bandar Abbas Saturday to Yemen, with what they claimed was a humanitarian aid shipment.