Saudi-led coalition calls off airstrikes in Yemen
RIYADH // Operation Decisive Storm ended at midnight on Tuesday night as a new campaign began to curb the movements of Houthi militias in Yemen.
The month-long campaign of airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition, including the UAE, had achieved its military goals and would now focus on finding a political solution to the conflict, Riyadh said.
The US-backed military operation was halted “based on a request by the Yemeni government and president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi”, said the Saudi military spokesman, Brig Gen Ahmed Al Assiri.
However, the coalition would continue to impose a naval blockade on Yemen and “continue to prevent the movement of Houthi militias from moving or undertaking any operations inside” the country, Gen Al Asseri said.
It is not known if this would involve military action.
Riyadh said Operation Decisive Storm would be replaced by Operation Restoring Hope, which would aim to revive political talks and achieve humanitarian goals such as repatriating foreign nationals and providing aid.
The Arab alliance launched airstrikes on March 26, seeking to roll back gains by the Iranian-backed Houthis after they ousted president Hadi’s government and forced him into exile.
The coalition’s operations “successfully eliminated the threat to the security of Saudi Arabia and neighbouring countries” by destroying the heavy weaponry and ballistic missiles held by the rebels, the Saudi defence ministry said.
Earlier, Iran’s deputy foreign minister said he expected a ceasefire. “We are optimistic that in the coming hours, after many efforts, we will see a halt to military attacks in Yemen,” Hossein Amir Abdollahian said.
Iran has consistently called for a halt to the airstrikes in Yemen, but representatives of the coalition and western states had rejected Tehran’s proposals, and accused Iran of supplying arms to the Houthis.
Riyadh’s announcement last night came after King Salman ordered the national guard, a ground force separate from the army, to mobilise for operations against the Houthis.
The king did not clarify how the 100,000-strong national guard would take part in the Yemen campaign and it was not known last night whether these new forces would still be deployed.
The capital Sanaa and other parts of Yemen have been pounded in four weeks of daily air strikes that have caused food and fuel shortages and a growing death toll. On Tuesday, before the airstrikes were halted, at least 40 people died and dozens were injured.
One strike hit a bridge in the central Ibb province as cars carrying militia members were driving along it.
At least 20 people were killed, mostly civilians. A second strike, which hit a security building in the city of Haradh near Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia, killed 13 civilians and seven soldiers.
Since late March the conflict has killed nearly 1,000 and injured about 3,500, according to health facilities in Yemen, but the true figures are likely to be higher because many people are not reaching hospitals for treatment.
Meanwhile, a US aircraft carrier was headed to the Arabian Sea on Tuesday as Washington said it was monitoring Iranian vessels suspected of carrying weapons to the Houthis in violation of a United Nations embargo.
Amid reports of a nine-ship Iranian convoy in the area, the US navy said it was sending the USS Theodore Roosevelt and guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy “to ensure the vital shipping lanes in the region remain open and safe”.
This latest deployment brings the total number of US warships in the area to nine, but the Pentagon denied reports they had orders to intercept Iranian vessels.
The International Organisation for Migration said it had temporarily suspended evacuations of foreigners from Yemen because of security hurdles posed by “all parties to the conflict”.
Spokesman Joel Millman said the organisation had been forced to suspend its operation “until further notice” because of “escalating difficulties faced in undertaking flight operations in recent days”.
The IOM has flown more than 400 foreign nationals out of the war-torn country since April 12. It had hoped to operate several daily flights out of Yemen, but had so far only managed three since the evacuations began, Mr Millman said.
However, he stressed that the main obstacle was not the aerial bombing, but the violence raging on the ground. “We have to talk to the coalition members, but for the most part, getting enough time has not been the issue, or avoiding the bombardment. It’s just the climate of violence around the airport.”
He said there were still hundreds of thousands of foreigners in the country and about 16,000 foreign nationals had turned to IOM alone requesting evacuation.
Updated: April 21, 2015 04:00 AM