Saudi Jets Strike Yemen in Bid to Halt Houthis

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Yemenis searched for survivors under what remained of houses that were believed to have been destroyed by a Saudi airstrike on Wednesday in Sana. Credit Yahya Arhab/European Pressphoto Agency

More than 100 Saudi Arabian jets pounded Yemeni targets early Thursday in a drive to stop the Houthi advance through the country, and the Saudi news media declared that the first night of the offensive had fully disabled the Houthi-aligned air force.

Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival and the Houthis’ main ally, denounced the assault as an American-backed attempt “to foment civil war in Yemen or disintegrate the country.” Houthi-controlled television channels broadcast footage of dead bodies and wounded civilians, blaming “American-backed aggression.”

The movement’s leaders warned that the battle could widen into a regional conflict, but they also vowed to overcome the Saudi attacks without Iranian help. “The Yemeni people are prepared to face this aggression without any foreign interference,” Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a Houthi spokesman, told Reuters.

Along with Iraq, Libya and Syria, Yemen is the fourth Arab nation where an attempt to build a new democracy has been consumed by civil conflict, regional proxy wars and the expansion of extremist groups like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.

The Houthi leadership, which hails from northern Yemen, practices a variant of Shiite Islam, the religion of the Iranian theocracy. Saudi Arabia, the region’s Sunni Muslim power, is backing forces loyal to President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has fled the capital, Sana, and has taken refuge among his supporters in the south.

The Saudi Arabian intervention immediately raised the threat that Iran might retaliate by increasing its own support for the Houthis with money and weapons — as Tehran has in the past — or with a more active military role, escalating the violence. But the struggle for Yemen is more than merely a sectarian conflict or a regional proxy war, in part because of the singular role of the former strongman, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Mr. Saleh left power under pressure from an Arab Spring uprising under a transitional plan brokered by Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf states. As president, he fought wars against the Houthis and times appeared to ally with Saudis against Iran.

(Source: The New York Times)

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