Saudi Arabia Launches Airstrikes as Yemen Civil War Ignites Regional Firestorm

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Saudi Arabia Launches Airstrikes as Yemen Civil War Ignites Regional Firestorm

Situation remains complex, but human rights activist declares "Hell is on the door" and "The worst is coming" as bombs fall in capital of Sanaa

People carry the body of a child they uncovered from under the rubble of houses destroyed by Saudi airstrikes near Sanaa Airport, Yemen, Thursday, March 26, 2015. Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes Thursday targeting military installations in Yemen held by Shiite rebels who were taking over a key port city in the country's south and had driven the embattled president to flee by sea, security officials said. (Photo: AP/Hani Mohammed)

Updated (8:11 PM EST): Saudi Arabia and Gulf allies launch airstrikes inside Yemen, says Saudi ambassador to the United States

Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to the United States,  confirmed in a press briefing on Wednesday night that the Saudi military, along with regional allies, has begun airstrikes against targets in Yemen. Reports from the ground in the capital city of Sanaa confirm that a wide-scale bombing operation was currently underway with explosions rattling buildings across the city.

Al-Jubier said the bombing campaign was designed to protect what he described as the "legitimate government" of Yemen from rebel forces.

"We have air assets from a number of countries in the [Saudi] kingdom and we have military assets that are on their way to the kingdom to participate in these operations," Jubeir said.

A U.S. official who asked not be named told Reuters that the United States was providing support to Saudi Arabia as it carries out its operation, but gave no details.

The New York Times reports:

Saudi Arabia announced on Wednesday night that it had begun military operations in Yemen, launching airstrikes in coordination with a coalition of 10 nations.

The strikes came as Yemen was hurtling closer to civil war after months of turmoil, as fighters and army units allied with the Houthi movement threatened to overrun the southern port of Aden, where the besieged president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, has gone into hiding.

Yemen shares a long border with Saudi Arabia, a major American ally, and the Saudis had been reported to be massing forces on the Yemen frontier as Mr. Mansour’s last redoubt in Aden looked increasingly imperiled.

Live-tweeting in response to the development of the bombing of capital city of Sanaa by Saudi and allied forces, Yemeni human rights activist Farea Al-Muslimi expressed horror and critical dismayat the unfolding situation:

Amid the complex and fast-moving situation in Yemen, this curated Twitter feed by Common Dreams hopes to serve as a source of quality updates and trusted perspectives:

Updated (4:23 PM EST): Yemen’s embattled president may have fled stronghold in southern city of Aden as 'all-out civil war' all but officially declared

Reuters reports:

Houthi militia forces in Yemen backed by allied army units seized an air base on Wednesday and appeared close to capturing the southern port of Aden from defenders loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, residents said.

The United States said that Hadi, who has been holed up in Aden since fleeing the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa last month, was no longer at his residence. It offered no other details on his movements.

After taking al-Anad air base, the Houthis and their military allies, supported by heavy armor, advanced to within 20 km (12 miles) of Aden.

Soldiers at Aden's Jabal al-Hadeed barracks fired into the air to prevent residents from entering the base and arming themselves, witnesses said, suggesting that Hadi's control over the city was fraying.

Houthi fighters and allied military units had advanced to Dar Saad, a village a half-hour's drive from central Aden, residents there said.

Earlier, unidentified warplanes fired missiles at the Aden neighborhood where Hadi's compound is located, residents said. Anti-aircraft batteries opened fire on the planes.

According to the Guardian's Kareem Shaheem:

Yemen has edged closer to all-out civil war as Shia Houthi rebels seized a key military base in the southern port city of Aden and reports suggested that President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi had fled the country.

Rebels seized al-Anad airbase, which lies between Taiz – Yemen’s third-largest city, which fell under rebel control last week – and Hadi’s stronghold of Aden, in a renewed push for control of the country’s south.

The Washington Post adds:

On a broader level, Yemen represents a potential proxy battlefield for the wider regional rivalries between Shiite power Iran and the Gulf Arab states backed by Washington, which had counted on Hadi as a partner in coordinating drone strikes against al-Qaeda.

Amid the widening chaos, Hadi’s whereabouts remained unclear.

Senior security officials told The Washington Post that Hadi had left his stronghold in Aden, where his government sought a foothold after being driven from the capital, Sanaa, by the Houthis.

Looters soon swarmed the presidential buildings, and fighting flared on several fronts on the edge of the city, said Anis Mansour, editor of the port city’s Huna Aden newspaper.

Earlier (7:45 AM EST):

As Houthi forces in Yemen reached the port city of Aden on Wednesday amid conflicting information of the whereabouts of embattled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, separate reporting indicated that Saudi Arabia is mobilizing its military forces along its southern border—fulfilling predictions of a total breakdown of peace efforts and stoking fears for a wider and more protracted conflict.

Alarms have been ringing this week that the breakdown of peace talks between the government of President Hadi—which has received backing and patronage from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia—and the Shi'ite factions from the north, backed by  Yemen's former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and thought to be receiving at least tacit support from Iran, could lead to a full-scale war inside the country. On Sunday, UN special envoy to Yemen declared that continued fighting and the inability to bring a complex array of Yemeni factions to the table was pushing the impoverished nation to the "edge of civil war".

According to reporting by Reuters late Tuesday, citing U.S. officials familiar with the developments, Saudi Arabia was "moving heavy military equipment including artillery to areas near its border with Yemen," a move seen as raising the risk that the Sunni monarchy and powerful U.S. ally—also the region's wealthiest and most heavily-armed country—could soon enter the worsening Yemeni conflict.

Reuters reports:

The [Saudi] buildup follows a southward advance by Iranian-backed Houthi Shi'ite militants who took control of the capital Sanaa in September and seized the central city of Taiz at the weekend as they move closer to the new southern base of U.S.-supported President Hadi.

The slide toward war in Yemen has made the country a crucial front in Saudi Arabia's region-wide rivalry with Iran, which Riyadh accuses of sowing sectarian strife through its support for the Houthis.

The conflict risks spiraling into a proxy war with Shi'ite Iran backing the Houthis, whose leaders adhere to the Zaydi sect of Shi'ite Islam, and Saudi Arabia and the other regional Sunni Muslim monarchies backing Hadi.

On Wednesday morning, Al-Jazeera reports information suggesting Hadi and his top commanders had fled Aden after Houthi forces entered the city, though other reports indicated this was not the case.

As Iona Craig, a UK-based independent journalist who has covered Yemen for years and followed recent developments closely, noted on Twitter:

According to Al-Jazeera:

The developments [in Aden] came just hours after a television station said Houthi fighters and their allies had seized an airbase where US troops and Europeans helped the country in its fight against al-Qaeda.

The Al-Masirah TV station reported that the Houthis had "secured'' the al-Annad airbase near the town of Lahij, and claimed the base had been looted by both al-Qaeda fighters and troops loyal to Hadi.

That airbase is only 60km  away from Aden, the port city where President Abd- Rabbu Mansour Hadi had established a temporary capital.

Witnesses said they saw a convoy of presidential vehicles leaving Hadi's palace, located at the top of a hill in Aden overlooking the Arabian Sea, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The advance of the Houthis threatens to plunge the Arab world's poorest country into a civil war that could draw in its Gulf neighbours. Already, Hadi has asked the UN to authorise a foreign military intervention in the country.

Saud Al Faisal, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, had previously warned that his country would take "necessary measures" if the Houthis did not resolve the crisis peacefully, without elaborating further.

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