ADEN: Saudi warplanes bombed Huthi rebels in Yemen on Thursday, launching a military intervention by a 10-nation coalition to prevent the fall of embattled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
The rebels and their allies within the armed forces had been closing in on main southern city Aden where Hadi has been holed up since fleeing the rebel-controlled capital Sanaa last month.
The advance had raised fears in Saudi Arabia that the Shiite minority rebels would seize control of the whole of its Sunni-majority neighbor and take it into the orbit of regional rival Iran.
The Saudi ambassador to the United States said that the operation had begun with air strikes but that the coalition stood ready to do “whatever it takes” to protect Hadi’s government.
Huge explosions were heard in Sanaa as warplanes pounded the air base adjacent to the international airport and other locations, an Agence France-Presse correspondent reported.
At least 13 civilians were killed when seven homes near the air base were hit, a civil defense source said.
In the south, residents reported hearing explosions at the huge Al-Anad air base, north of Aden, which was seized by anti-government forces on Wednesday.
Saudi ambassador Adel al-Jubeir said that the kingdom had assembled a coalition of more than 10 countries, including five Gulf monarchies, for the military operation to defend Hadi’s government.
Washington said President Barack Obama had authorized the “provision of logistical and intelligence support” for the campaign.
Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates along with Saudi Arabia said they “have decided to answer the call of President Hadi to protect Yemen and his people from the aggression of the [Shiite] Huthi militia.”
‘Whatever it takes’
Jubeir told reporters in Washington that the operation “is to defend and support the legitimate government of Yemen and prevent the radical Huthi movement from taking over the country.”
He said that for the moment the action was confined to air strikes on various targets around Yemen, but that other military assets were being mobilized and that the coalition “would do whatever it takes.”
“The Royal Saudi Air Force has taken out the Huthi air defenses and destroyed numerous Huthi fighter planes,” a Saudi adviser said, adding that air force “has pretty much secured most of the Yemeni air space and is now consolidating a wide no-fly zone.”
The official Saudi Press Agency said Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan had all “expressed desire to participate in the operation.”
Both Egypt and Jordan confirmed that they were joining the Saudi-led operation.
Egypt said it stood ready to provide ground troops if necessary.
“Coordination is under way with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to prepare for participation by the Egyptian air force and Egyptian navy, and a ground force if the situation warrants, as part of the coalition action,” the Egyptian foreign ministry said in a statement.
Military sources said the raids had hit rebel positions at various locations in Sanaa, including at al-Daylami airbase and the adjacent international airport in north Sanaa, as well as the presidential palace complex seized by the rebels in January.
The rebels’ television station Al-Massira aired an urgent call for medics in Sanaa to head to hospitals.
The Saudi adviser said his country’s defense minister warned the son of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, “who is commanding the attack on Aden that his forces face ‘obliteration’ if they continue their push toward Aden.”
Saleh, who resigned in 2012 following a year of nationwide protests, is accused of allying with the rebels, relying on the loyalty of many army units that he built during his three-decade rule.
Acting foreign minister Riyadh Yassin had warned in Egypt that the fall of the second city Aden would mean the “start of civil war” as he drummed up Arab military support for Hadi.
His comments came on Wednesday as army units switched allegiance to the rebels and seized Aden’s international airport.
The airport was back in the hands of militia loyal to Hadi on Thursday morning after those troops pulled out.
Aides to Hadi said that the Western-backed president had been taken to a safe haven “within Aden” after a fresh air strike on the presidential palace by his opponents on Wednesday.
Washington said it had been in touch with Hadi and that he was no longer at his residence, but it was unable to say where he was.
Proxy war fears
Yemen has been gripped by growing turmoil since the Shiite Huthi rebels launched a power takeover in Sanaa in February.
The strife has raised fears Yemen could be torn apart by a proxy war between Shiite Iran, accused of backing the rebels, and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, which supports Hadi.
The escalating turmoil in the country — which borders Saudi Arabia and lies close to key shipping routes — has pushed up world oil prices on fears it could threaten Middle Eastern petroleum producers.
Hadi appealed to the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday to “shoulder its responsibilities to safeguard Yemen from sliding into more chaos and destruction.”
Dozens of people have been killed as the Huthis backed by troops allied to former strongman Saleh, have clashed with pro-Hadi forces as they pushed southwards.
The Huthis said they had captured the defense minister in their push southwards deep into Lahj province, adjacent to Aden.
General Mahmud al-Subaihi, who escaped house arrest in Sanaa this month, had been seen as a vital ally of Hadi in charge of organizing Aden’s defense lines.
Yemen has allowed Washington to wage a longstanding drone war against Al-Qaeda in the country.
In his letter to the Security Council on Tuesday, Hadi voiced concerns that Al-Qaeda would “seize the current instability to spark further chaos.”