Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Saudi-led coalition targets Houthi stronghold in Yemen
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Members of the Saudi border guard pose for pictures in the Ashiq island, in the southern Jizan province near the border with Yemen, on April 1, 2015. (AFP Photo/STR)

Members of the Saudi border guard pose for pictures in the Ashiq island, in the southern Jizan province near the border with Yemen, on April 1, 2015. (AFP Photo/STR)

Riyadh, Al-Hudaydah and Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies have targeted the stronghold of the Iran-backed Shi’ite Houthi movement in Yemen, the Saudi Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.

Defense Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri said coalition warplanes had intensified strikes against the Houthis in the northern Saada province, the movement’s traditional stronghold.

Meanwhile, sources in Yemen said the Saudi-led offensive, dubbed Operation Decisive Storm, had hit the Maran area in Saada, where Houthi leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi currently resides, with reports suggesting he had fled to a cave hideout in the region’s mountainous areas.

On Monday reports said coalition forces had hit the Al-Mazraq refugee camp outside Sana’a, killing at least 40 civilians.

But Asiri said on Monday that coalition warplanes had come under anti-aircraft missile attacks from the area and were thereby forced to respond. He added that Houthi militias have been deploying their forces in a number of civilian areas.

Coalition forces were doing their utmost to accurately specify targets and ensure they are free from civilians, he said.

Early on Wednesday, an explosion at a dairy factory in the Western Al-Hudaydah province also killed 25 workers, according to health officials.

A faction from Yemen’s army allied to the Houthis said on Wednesday the explosion was caused by coalition airstrikes.

However, local sources from Al-Hudaydah told Asharq Al-Awsat the explosion occurred after a rocket was launched at the factory from a nearby army base controlled by military forces loyal to the Houthis.

The dairy factory is owned by the Thabet Brothers Group, one of Yemen’s biggest business conglomerates, whose owners are reportedly against the Houthi coup.

“It was armed Houthis who attacked the dairy factory,” one eyewitness told Asharq Al-Awsat. “The reason for this is that the Thabet Brothers Group refused a request from the Houthis to aid them financially and for the movement to use their factories to store weapons and supplies.”

Other sources said the Houthis had targeted the factory in order stir up international condemnation of the Saudi-led airstrikes.

Meanwhile, in the southern port city of Aden, local volunteer forces loyal to Yemen’s internationally recognized president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, blocked the Houthi advance towards the city, Maj. Gen. Asiri said on Wednesday.

Other reports on Thursday suggested the Houthis had entered the center of the city.

Sources told Reuters “unidentified foreign troops” had landed in Aden’s port via a single vessel.

There has been no confirmation as yet from the Saudi Defense Ministry on whether the troops belong to coalition forces, but this seems extremely likely as coalition warships implemented a sea blockade of all Yemen’s ports on Monday.

According the Saudi Press Agency, the country’s Interior Ministry on Thursday said a Saudi border guard was killed and 10 others when their observation post came under attack from a mountainous area in Yemen.

Wael Hazam and Arafat Madabish contributed additional reporting from Al-Hudaydah and Sana’a.