Saudi airstrikes target rebel bases in Yemen

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Yemeni Capital Bombed in Saudi-Led Air Strikes

SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Saudi Arabia bombed key military installations in Yemen on Thursday after announcing a broad regional coalition to oust Shiite rebels that forced the country's embattled president to flee. Some of the strikes hit positions in the country's capital, Sanaa, and flattened a number of homes near the international airport.

The airstrikes, which had the support of nine other countries, drew a strong reaction from Iran which called the operation an "invasion" and a "dangerous step" that will worsen the crisis in the country.

Iran "condemns the airstrikes against Yemen this morning that left some innocent Yemenis wounded and dead and considers this action a dangerous step," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said in a statement. She said military action would complicate and worsen the crisis in Yemen.

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Saudi airstrikes target rebel bases in Yemen
Boys gather at the site of a car bomb attack in Sanaa, Yemen, Thursday, June 18, 2015. A series of Islamic State-claimed bombings in Yemen's rebel-controlled capital killed several people and wounded dozens Wednesday night amid the country's raging war. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
Smoke rises after a Saudi-led airstrike hit a site believed to be one of the largest weapons depot on the outskirts of Yemen's capital, Sanaa, on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. Saudi-led airstrikes hit a convoy of civilians fleeing fighting in southern Yemen early Wednesday, killing tens of people in an attack among the deadliest of the 3-month-old air campaign, medics said. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
Yemenis inspect a destroyed building in Aden's suburbs on June 24, 2015 after rebel forces and loyalist fighters were locked in fierce fighting. Warplanes from the Saudi-led Arab coalition have launched heavy raids against rebel positions in seven Yemeni provinces, according to witnesses and military sources. AFP PHOTO / SALEH AL-OBEIDI (Photo credit should read SALEH AL-OBEIDI/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke rises after a Saudi-led airstrike hit a site where many believe the largest weapons cache in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, is located on Monday, April 20, 2015. Powerful explosions rocked the Yemeni capital early Monday morning amid the strike, shattering windows and waking residents up. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
Smoke billows from the Faj Attan Hill following a reported airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition on an army arms depot, now under Huthi rebel control, on April 20, 2015, in Sanaa. The UN this week called the humanitarian crisis in Yemen one of the 'largest and most complex in the world'. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
SANAA, YEMEN - MARCH 30: Shiite Houthis use anti-aircraft guns as the Saudi-led coalition strikes hit Houthi targets in Sanaa as part of the 'Decisive Storm' operation in Sanaa, Yemen on March 30, 2015. (Photo by Sinan Yiter/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SANAA, YEMEN - MARCH 30: Shiite Houthis use anti-aircraft guns as the Saudi-led coalition strikes hit Houthi targets in Sanaa as part of the 'Decisive Storm' operation in Sanaa, Yemen on March 30, 2015. (Photo by Sinan Yiter/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A Pakistani woman (R), evacuated from Yemen, is greeted by relative on her arrival in Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad on March 30, 2015. Pakistan evacuated more than 500 of its citizens from Yemen by jumbo jet and sent a naval frigate to rescue others stranded in the war-torn country, officials said. AFP PHOTO / FAROOQ NAEEM (Photo credit should read FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images)
SANAA, YEMEN - MARCH 30: Houthis attack Saudi-led coalition with anti-aircraft weapons after coalition carried out airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen on March 30, 2015 as part of the 'Decisive Storm' operation against the Houthis. (Photo by Sinan Yiter/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SANAA, YEMEN - MARCH 30: Houthis attack Saudi-led coalition with anti-aircraft weapons after coalition carried out airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen on March 30, 2015 as part of the 'Decisive Storm' operation against the Houthis. (Photo by Sinan Yiter/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SANAA, YEMEN - MARCH 27: Smoke rises after Saudi-led coalition carried out airstrike in Sanaa, Yemen on March 30, 2015 as part of the 'Decisive Storm' operation against the Houthis. (Photo by Sinan Yiter/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SANAA, YEMEN - MARCH 27: Smoke rises after Saudi-led coalition carried out airstrike in Sanaa, Yemen on March 30, 2015 as part of the 'Decisive Storm' operation against the Houthis. (Photo by Sinan Yiter/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
People search for survivors 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. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
SANAA, YEMEN - MARCH 26: Yemeni men search for survivors in rubble of buildings after airstrikes of a 10-member coalition of Gulf countries in Yemeni capital Sanaa on March 26, 2015. Saudi Arabia has launched military operations in Yemen, as part of a coalition of over 10 countries in response to a direct request from the legitimate government of Yemen, against the Shiite Houthi group, which seized capital Sanaa and several provinces. (Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
People search for survivors 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. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
People search for survivors 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. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
A Houthi Shiite fighter stand guard as people search for survivors 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. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
A Yemeni man sits in the rubble of his house in the Yemeni capital on March 26, 2015 after Saudi air strikes against Huthi rebels near Sanaa Airport. Saudi Arabia launched a military operation overnight in Yemen by a regional coalition to defend the government of embattled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi as the country teeters on the brink of civil war. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Yemeni civilians and security forces stand at the site of a Saudi air strike against Huthi rebels near Sanaa Airport on March 26, 2015, which killed at least 13 people. Saudi warplanes bombed Huthi rebels in Yemen, launching a military intervention by a 10-nation coalition to prevent the fall of embattled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
SANAA, YEMEN - MARCH 22: A group of people hold banners as they march during a demonstration against Shiite Houthi movement that interfere to the country's government, at Gamal Abdul Nasser Street in Taizz, Yemen on March 22, 2015. (Photo by Waddah Abdulqade Abdulqawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Yemenis drive in a car loaded with their belongings in the Yemeni capital as they move to a safer place on March 26, 2015 after Saudi air strikes against Huthi rebels near Sanaa Airport. Saudi Arabia launched a military operation overnight in Yemen by a regional coalition to defend the government of embattled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi as the country teeters on the brink of civil war. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012 file photo,Yemen's Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi gestures as he enters a polling center to cast his vote in Sanaa. Yemen's embattled president fled his palace in Aden for an undisclosed location Wednesday as Shiite rebels offered cash bounty for his capture and arrested his defense minister. Hadi left just hours after the rebels' own television station said they seized an air base where U.S. troops and Europeans advised the country in its fight against al-Qaida militants. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File)
Houthi Shiite fighters, background, patrol as their comrades attend the funeral procession of victims who were killed from triple suicide bombings that hit a pair of mosques in Sanaa, Yemen, Wednesday, March 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
In this Tuesday, March 17, 2015 photo, Abdul-Lateef al-Sayed al-Bafqeeh, leader and founder of the government-backed militia formally known as the “Popular Committees,”listens to a reporter during an interview with The Associated Press in southern Abyan province, Yemen. Al-Bafqeeh and his militiamen joined the military in its campaign to expel al-Qaida from Abyan, ending a 14-month occupation by the terror group in 2012. Now he and his men will be the ones thrown into the thick of battle in Yemen’s seemingly imminent civil war, fighting alongside fellow southern Yemenis loyal to embattled president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi against northern forces loyal to the nation’s ousted leader and his Iranian-backed Shiite rebel allies. (AP Photo/Yassir Hassan)
Houthi Shiite mourners attend the funeral procession of victims who were killed from a triple suicide bombing attack on mosques in Sanaa, Yemen, Wednesday, March 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
FILE - In this Friday, March 20, 2015 file photo, militiamen loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi ride on an army vehicle on a street in Aden, Yemen. Yemen’s Shiite rebels, backed by supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, have seized the third-largest city after capturing the capital Sanaa in September, effectively splitting the country in half and hindering U.S. efforts to combat a powerful local al-Qaida affiliate. Hadi, a close U.S. ally, fled house arrest in Sanaa last month and has set up a base in the port city of Aden, the former capital of the once-independent south. (AP Photo/Yassir Hassan, FIle)
FILE - In this Thursday, March 19, 2015 file photo, a Yemeni man wears a gas mask that he looted from a base that belonged to police special forces loyal to ousted longtime autocratic President Ali Abdullah Saleh, as he walks around outside the base in Aden, Yemen. Militiamen loyal to the current President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi ride on armored vehicles in the background. (AP Photo/Hamza Hendawi, File)
A militiaman loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi talks to a driver after he looted a material from a base that belonged to police special forces loyal to ousted longtime autocratic President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Aden, Yemen, Thursday, March 19, 2015. Forces loyal to former President Saleh stormed the international airport in the southern port city of Aden on Thursday. Later, the pro-Hadi troops and militiamen completely retook the airport. They then stormed the nearby base of the pro-Saleh police special forces. (AP Photo/Hamza Hendawi)
Militiamen loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi ride on a tank on a street in Aden, Yemen, Thursday, March 19, 2015. Forces loyal to Yemen's former President Ali Abdullah Saleh stormed the international airport in the southern port city of Aden on Thursday, triggering an intense, hours-long gunbattle with the forces of the current president Hadi that intensified a monthslong struggle for power threatening to fragment the nation. (AP Photo/Hamza Hendawi)
Militiamen loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi ride on a tank on a street in Aden, Yemen, Thursday, March 19, 2015. A woman on the tank holds a representation of the old South Yemen flag that was used when southern Yemen was an independent state until 1990. Forces loyal to Yemen's former President Ali Abdullah Saleh stormed the international airport in the southern port city of Aden on Thursday, triggering an intense, hours-long gunbattle with the forces of the current President Hadi that intensified a monthslong struggle for power threatening to fragment the nation. (AP Photo/Hamza Hendawi)
AP10ThingsToSee - Supporters of Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, the son of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, gather at the Monument of the Unknown Soldier during a demonstration demanding presidential elections be held and the younger Saleh run for the office, in Sanaa, Yemen, Tuesday, March 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
Yemeni police cadets loyal to the Huthi militia which controls Sanaa march during a group funeral for the victims of last week's multiple suicide bombings that targeted Huthi mosques in the Yemeni capital, on March 25, 2015. The Islamic State (IS) jihadist group claimed responsibility for the March 20 attacks on two mosques in Sanaa that killed at least 142 people. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
ADEN, YEMEN - MARCH 25: Members of Yemen's General People's Committee deploy at mechanized unit in Aden, Yemen on March 25, 2015. (Photo by Wael Shaif Thabet/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Yemeni police cadets loyal to the Huthi militia which controls Sanaa march during a group funeral for the victims of last week's multiple suicide bombings that targeted Huthi mosques in the Yemeni capital, on March 25, 2015. The Islamic State (IS) jihadist group claimed responsibility for the March 20 attacks on two mosques in Sanaa that killed at least 142 people. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
ADEN, YEMEN - MARCH 24: A group of Yemeni men who want to return to military stage a demonstration outside the Military Command in Aden, Yemen on March 24, 2015. (Photo by Wail Shaif Thabet/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
In this photo taken on Friday, March 20, 2015, militiamen loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi ride on an army vehicle on a street in Aden, Yemen. The country's Shiite rebels issued a call to arms Saturday to battle forces loyal to the embattled President Hadi, as U.S. troops evacuated a southern air base over al-Qaida militants seizing a nearby city, authorities said. (AP Photo/Yassir Hassan)
A Yemeni man shows off a helmet and a flak jacket he looted from a base that belonged to police special forces loyal to ousted longtime autocratic President Ali Abdullah Saleh, as he stands on a street outside the base in Aden, Yemen, Thursday, March 19, 2015. Forces loyal to former President Saleh stormed the international airport in the southern port city of Aden on Thursday. Later, the troops and militiamen loyal to the current President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi completely retook the airport. They then stormed the nearby base of the pro-Saleh police special forces. (AP Photo/Hamza Hendawi)
TAIZZ, YEMEN - MARCH 23: Police intervene to the demonstrators during a demonstration against Shiite Houthi movement that interfere to the country's government, in Taizz, Yemen on March 23, 2015. (Photo by Waddah Abdulqade Abdulqawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SANAA, YEMEN - MARCH 22: A group of people hold banners as they march during a demonstration against Shiite Houthi movement that interfere to the country's government, at Gamal Abdul Nasser Street in Taizz, Yemen on March 22, 2015. (Photo by Waddah Abdulqade Abdulqawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
TAIZZ, YEMEN - MARCH 23: People hold flags and banners during a demonstration against Shiite Houthi movement that interfere to the country's government, in Taizz, Yemen on March 23, 2015. (Photo by Waddah Abdulqade Abdulqawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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"This invasion will bear no result but expansion of terrorism and extremism throughout the whole region," she said.

The Saudi airstrikes came hours after President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a close U.S. ally, fled Yemen by sea after rebels pushed their way toward the southern port city of Aden where he had taken refuge.

The back-and-forth between the regional heavyweights was threatening to turn impoverished Yemen into a proxy battle between the Middle East's Sunni powers and Shiite-led Iran.

Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya News reported that the kingdom had deployed 100 fighter jets, 150,000 soldiers and other navy units in "Operation Decisive Storm."

The Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, were calling on their supporters to protest in the streets of Sanaa on Thursday afternoon, Yemen's Houthi-controlled state news agency SABA reported. TV stations affiliated with the rebels and their ally, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, showed the aftermath of the strikes Thursday morning in what appeared to be a residential area.

Al-Masirah TV, affiliated with the Houthis, quoted the ministry of health as saying that 18 civilians were killed and 24 were injured.

Yemen Today, a TV station affiliated with Saleh, showed hundreds of residents congregating around a number of flattened houses, some chanting "Death to Al-Saud", in reference to the kingdom's royal family. The civilians were sifting through the rubble, pulling out mattresses, bricks and shrapnel.

An Associated Press reporter on the scene in the Sanaa neighborhood near the international airport saw people searching for loved ones in the debris of flattened homes. Residents said at least three bodies were pulled from the rubble. There were traces of blood between the bricks.

Ahmed al-Sumaini said an entire alley close to the airport was wiped out in the strikes overnight. He said people ran out from their homes in the middle of the night. "This was a surprise. I was asleep and I was jolted out of my bed," he said, waving a piece of shrapnel.

In addition to the airport, targets included the camp of U.S.-trained Yemeni special forces, which is controlled by generals loyal to Saleh. Yemeni security officials said the targets also included a missile base in Sanaa that was controlled by the Houthis earlier this year. One of the security officials said the strikes also targeted the fuel depot at the base.

The Houthis said in a statement that Saudi jets hit the military base, known as al-Duleimi, and that they responded with anti-aircraft missiles.

The strikes also hit the al-Annad air base in the southern Lahj province. About 100 U.S. military advisers withdrew over the weekend from base, where they had been leading a drone campaign against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.

The crumbling of Hadi's government is a blow to Washington's counterterrorism strategy against al-Qaida's branch in Yemen, considered to be the most powerful in the terrorist network.

The security officials spoke on condition of anonymity, because they were not authorized to brief journalists.

Riad Yassin, Yemen's foreign minister, told Saudi's Al-Hadath TV that the airstrikes were welcomed.

"I hope the Houthis listen to the sound of reason. With what is happening, they forced us into this," he said.

Saudi ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir announced the military operation in a news conference in Washington. He said his government had consulted closely with the U.S. and other allies but that the U.S. military was not involved in the operations.

The White House said in a statement late Wednesday that the U.S. was coordinating military and intelligence support with the Saudis but not taking part directly in the strikes.

Other regional players were involved in the Saudi operation: The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain joined Saudi Arabia in a statement published by the Saudi Press Agency, saying they would answer a request from Hadi "to protect Yemen and his dear people from the aggression of the Houthi militias which were and are still a tool in the hands of foreign powers that don't stop meddling with the security and stability of brotherly Yemen." Oman, the sixth member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, didn't sign onto the statement.

On a Thursday conference call with foreign ministers from the council, Secretary of State John Kerry commended the work of the coalition's military action against the Houthis, according to a State Department official traveling with Kerry in Lausanne, Switzerland. Kerry noted U.S. support for coalition efforts, including intelligence sharing and logistical support for strikes against Houthi targets, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private diplomatic call.

Egypt announced political and military support, saying it is ready to send ground troops if necessary. Jordan confirmed it was participating in the operation. Pakistan, Morocco and Sudan were also taking part, the Saudi Press Agency reported Thursday.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies believe the Houthis are tools for Iran to seize control of Yemen and say they intend to stop the takeover. The Houthis deny they are backed by Iran.

Yemen now faces fragmentation, with Houthis controlling much of the north, including the capital of Sanaa, and several southern provinces. In recent days, they took the third-largest city, Taiz, as well as much of the province of Lahj, both just to the north of Aden.

The Houthis are backed by Saleh, the autocrat who ruled Yemen for three decades until he was removed amid a 2011 Arab Spring uprising. Some of the best-equipped and trained military and security units remained loyal to Saleh and they have helped the Houthis in their rapid advance.

Hadi left Sanaa for Aden earlier this month after escaping house arrest under the Houthis, who overran the capital six months ago. In Aden, he had sought to make a last stand, claiming it as the temporary seat of what remained of his government, backed by allied militias and loyal army units.

With Houthis and Saleh forces closing in on multiple fronts, Hadi and his aides left Aden Wednesday on two boats in the Gulf of Aden, security and port officials told AP. The officials would not specify his destination.

Arab leaders are meeting in Egypt this weekend for a pre-planned summit. It is unclear if Hadi will join them.

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