03/26/2015, 00.00
YEMEN
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Riyadh and the Gulf monarchies launch air raids against Houthi rebels

by Paul Dakiki
Operation "Firmness Storm" began today, targeting Sana'a and its international airport. Aden airport has been "liberated". Army units have joined the Houthi rebels. A war between Sunnis and Shiites, between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies have launched a series of air strikes against the Houthi rebels to save the president Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi. The Saudi ambassador to the US, Adel al-Jubeir, said Riyadh is acting to "defend the legitimate government" of Hadi.

Saudi Arabia is joined by Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE. Other countries, such as Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan have "expressed a desire to participate in the operation" against the rebels, which the Saudi kingdom has dubbed "Firmness Storm".

Military sources say that the raid – which began early this morning - hit Houthi positions in various locations in Sana'a, including air bases, the international airport and the presidential compound occupied by the Houthi last January.

The raids also targeted the base of Al-Anand, in the south near Aden, taken yesterday by the rebels. Riyad Yassin, acting as foreign minister of the deposed government, has warned the rebels against taking Aden – Yemen’s the second city – as it would pave the way  "to civil war”.

Houthi forces are controlled by the son of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, deposed in 2011, and have joined forces with some army units. Yesterday they took the international airport of Aden, but today Saudi Arabia claimed it has been "liberated".

President Hadi, who fled from Sana'a to Aden last month, is now in an unknown location. Some believe he has fled abroad, even if this has been officially denied.

Yemen has been gripped by instability and clashes since, on January 22, when the Houthis occupied the presidential compound in Sana'a, provoking the flight of the government and president.

The Houthis are a political group drawn from the Zaidi Shiites native of northern Yemen; since 2004 they have been demanding more rights and carrying out attacks against the central government and pro-government Sunni militias.

The tensions in Yemen are seen by all observers as a war between Sunnis and Shiites, including Saudi Arabia - which supports Hadi - and Iran, which supports the Houthi. But the real issue is a political rather than religious one. The violence is compounded by the presence in the country of groups that refer to Al Qaeda and members of the Islamic State, who are fighting the Sunni government and the Houthi rebels.

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