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Fears over death toll after second night of anti-Houthi strikes in Yemen

Saudi Arabia says campaign will continue as long as necessary while civilians flee southern city of Aden
Yemenis tend to a man injured during street fighting in the southern city of Aden on Thursday (AFP)

Cities and towns across Yemen were rocked by a second round of Saudi-led airstrikes overnight on Thursday.

Yemen’s Health Ministry, which is under control of the rebel Houthi movement that is being targeted by the strikes, said on Friday morning that at least 39 civilians had been killed since the bombing began late on Wednesday night.

Twelve of the victims were killed when a raid targeting a military base north of the capital, Sanaa, hit surrounding residential areas, according to the ministry.

Reporters on the ground say they fear that the death toll of Thursday night's bombing may be the highest of the campaign so far.

The strikes continued into Friday afternoon, with strikes targeting a Houthi-controlled base in the central province of Marib and weapons depots in the southern city of Aden. The President Palace in the capital was also targeted by fighter jets on Friday afternoon, Reuters reported.

Amnesty International has so far confirmed that six children have been among those killed in the airstrikes, after speaking to medical sources and eyewitnesses.

Pro-Houthi activists also reported that a market had been hit by an airstrike in Kitaf, a small town in the east of Saada, the northern Yemeni province from which the Houthi movement sprang.

There were reports that a number of people, many of them civilians, were killed in the raid, although this could not be independently verified.

In Aden, the second largest city in Yemen, troops loyal to President Mansour Hadi declared a curfew on Friday morning as they engaged in fierce street battles with supporters of the Houthi militias that have overrun large swathes of the country over the past year.

Thousands of civilians began packing up their belongings on Friday morning in a quest to leave Aden, where the presidential palace was bombed last week as President Hadi took shelter there.

Local news sites reported that residents were preparing for a long campaign in the city.

However, Yemen's Foreign Minister Riad Yassin, who supports embattled President Hadi, said on Friday that he thought the anti-Houthi campaign could end within days or hours.

"It is a short, sharp campaign which really we have been forced to request," explaining that the aim of the offensive is to weaken the rebels.

President Hadi announced his arrival in Saudi Arabia on Thursday afternoon – he was met in Riyadh by the country’s Defence Minister, Mohammed bin Salman, and the Head of General Intelligence, Khalid Abdullah al-Hamaydan.

Hadi will travel from Riyadh to Egypt’s resort town of Sharm al-Sheikh to attend a summit of Arab leaders.

At least 10 regional allies of Saudi Arabia, including Egypt, Sudan and Pakistan, have pledged their support for the anti-Houthi campaign.

Morocco also decided to join in the coalition, declaring that it will provide “all forms of support” to the campaign, including the use of warplanes currently based in the UAE.

Saudi Arabia said on Thursday evening that it has no immediate plans to launch ground operations inside Yemeni territory, although it is prepared to do so if necessary.

The announcement came after Egyptian officials told Associated Press that they would lead a ground assault in Yemen alongside Saudi Arabia.

Saudi officials also announced on Thursday that their forces had been able to destroy Houthi anti-aircraft guns, missiles and planes “within 15 minutes” of beginning the operation.

However, Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asiri stressed that the campaign would continue for as long as necessary until it achieves all of its goals of protecting “the legitimate government of Yemen”.

Houthi rebels took over Sanaa in September 2014, and have since overrun most state institutions, dissolving the parliament and replacing it with a Houthi-appointed council.

President Hadi has sought to cling to power despite the continued Houthi advance.

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