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Yemen president in Riyadh amid fresh anti-Houthi strikes

Iran, Iraq and Hezbollah oppose Saudi-led offensive against Houthi militia
Yemenis wave their national flag along with the Saudi national flag during an anti-Houthi demonstration in the strategic city of Taez on 26 March, 2015 (AFP)

Yemen's President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi arrived Thursday in Riyadh, which is leading a coalition against Shiite rebels threatening to take over Aden, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

He was received at an airbase by Saudi Defence Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is overseeing the military operation by nearly a dozen countries against the Houthi Shiites.

Hadi's whereabouts had been unknown since the Houthi rebels and their allies closed in on his refuge in the main southern city of Aden this week.

Yemen's acting foreign minister, Riyad Yassin, told reporters in Cairo that Hadi would take part in a two-day Arab summit starting Saturday in Egypt.

Saudi-led coalition warplanes carried out fresh air strikes in Yemen on Friday.

Rebels' television Al-Massira said anti-aircraft defences were fired early Friday after warplanes hit new targets around the capital.

Witnesses said airstrikes targeted Al-Samaa military base north of Sanaa, and Al-Istiqlal camp, on the western edge of the capital.   

Coalition raids late Thursday struck a rebel-held base in third city Taez, and the airport and an arms depot in the Huthis' northern stronghold.

Explosions had been heard earlier in Sanaa as warplanes pounded an air base adjacent to the international airport and other locations, an AFP correspondent reported.

Families streamed out of Sanaa seeking the relative safety of the provinces.

"I am leaving with my family. Sanaa is no longer safe," said one resident, who gave his name only as Mohammed, as he piled his belongings into a minibus.

A health ministry official said 20 people were killed and 33 others wounded in the raids Thursday, according to rebel-linked defence ministry website 26sep.net.

The official said the fatalities were caused by airstrikes that hit Thursday Al-Nasr and Bani Hawat areas, north of Sanaa.

Pakistan vows 'strong response'

Meanwhile, Pakistan's government said Thursday it will dispatch a top civil-military delegation to Saudi Arabia following Riyadh's request that it join the coalition to defend Yemen's president, promising a "strong response" to any threat to the Gulf kingdom.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif decided to send the group to Saudi Arabia on Friday after meeting with top defence and military officials in Islamabad late Thursday, his office said in a statement.

"The meeting concluded that any threat to Saudi Arabia's territorial integrity would evoke a strong response from Pakistan," it said, adding that Pakistan's defence minister and Sharif's national security advisor would travel to the country, along with top military figures.

Sharif told the meeting that "Pakistan enjoys close and brotherly relations with Saudi Arabia and other GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries and attaches great importance to their security."

Islamabad has longstanding close ties to Saudi Arabia, and foreign office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said the kingdom had asked Pakistan to join the coalition.

"I can confirm we have been contacted by Saudi Arabia in this regard. The matter is being examined. That's all I have to say at the moment," she told a regular press briefing.

Aslam said no decision had been taken yet on whether to close the Pakistani embassy in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa.

Morocco joins Saudi coalition

Morocco has joined the Saudi-led military coalition, the foreign ministry said Thursday.

Rabat has "put at the disposition" of the coalition Moroccan warplanes already based in the United Arab Emirates, from which they have been participating in US-led strikes against the Islamic State group, a statement said.

Morocco had "decided to provide all forms of support to the coalition to sustain legitimacy in Yemen through the political, intelligence, logistical and military dimensions," the statement added.

The objective was to help "remove Yemen from the crisis in which it is mired," as well as to "stand up to all foreign conspiracies woven against the country, and against Gulf and Arab security."

The ministry pointed out that Morocco has a "multidimensional strategic partnership" with the GCC.

In 2011, the GCC invited Morocco and Jordan, also monarchies, to join the group. While that did not materialise, the group subsequently created a $5 billion (4.6 billion euros) fund on behalf of the two countries.

Egypt says air force, Navy join operation

Egypt's air force and Navy are participating in the Saudi-led operation, the presidency said in a statement on Thursday.

The government had previously said it would be prepared to commit ground troops as well if required.

"It was necessary for Egypt to assume its responsibility... through the participation of elements of the Egyptian armed forces from the air force and Navy," the presidency said in a statement.

It said the action came in response to "demands by the Yemeni nation for the return of stability and to preserve its Arab identity."

A military official told AFP that "Egypt is participating in the ongoing operation."

There were reports, however, that Cairo joined in late after being snubbed by Saudi Arabia for reportedly holding secret talks with the Houthis.

Turkey may give Saudi operation 'logistical' support

Turkey could provide "logistical" support for Saudi Arabia's operation in Yemen, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday, slamming Tehran's involvement in the region.

"We support Saudi Arabia's intervention," Erdogan told France 24 in an interview.

"Turkey may consider providing logistical support based on the evolution of the situation," he added, without giving further details.

Erdogan said "Iran and the terrorist groups must withdraw" from Yemen.

The Turkish leader indicated suspicion of Iran's role in the region, saying its involvement in the campaign against IS militants in Iraq was aimed at replacing them.

"The aim of Iran is to increase its influence in Iraq," said Erdogan.

"Iran is trying to chase Daesh from the region only to take its place," he added, using the Arabic acronym for the group.

Erdogan's relations with Saudi Arabia chilled over Riyadh's role in the 2013 ousting of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, an ally of Ankara.

However Erdogan in late February made the Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca and then went on to hold talks with new King Salman, in what observers saw as a cautious rapprochement with Riyadh. 

Other states involved

The official Saudi Press Agency said that Jordan, Morocco and Sudan, had all "expressed desire to participate in the operation," in addition to Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates.

Sudan is providing ground troops as well as warplanes, the Sudanese defence minister said on Thursday.

"We are taking part with air and land forces in the 'Firmness Storm' operations and our forces have now begun mechanised movement towards the sites of the operations," Sudanese Defence Minister Abdelrahim Mohammed Hussein told a press conference.

Military spokesman Colonel Al-Sawarmy Khaled Saad said the goal of the operation was "protecting Islamic holy sites and protecting the region".

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir visited Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and held talks with King Salman and his defence minister, Sudan's SUNA news agency reported.

Kuwait said Thursday it was necessary to intervene in Yemen after Houthi rebels threatened the southern port of Aden.

The Houthi offensive "obliged all of us to quickly respond and take the required measures to restore peace and security," Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khaled al-Sabah said.

Iran, Iraq and Hezbollah oppose Saudi-led offensive  

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani condemned Saudi Arabia's military intervention Thursday in Yemen and urged all countries in the region to stay out of their neighbour's internal affairs.

During a telephone conversation with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Rouhani referred to "this morning's military aggression and condemned all military intervention in the internal affairs of independent nations," his website said.

Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah movement called on Saudi Arabia to "immediately stop the aggression" in Yemen.

"Hezbollah strongly condemns the Saudi-American aggression that targets the brotherly people of Yemen, its national army and its vital institutions," a statement from the Shiite group said. 

Iraq's foreign minister opposed the Saudi-led air strikes, saying military intervention was not a solution.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, whose Shiite-led government is fighting Sunni militants in Iraq with Western and Iranian backing, said he supported a "peaceful" approach to Yemen.

"We are not with the strikes, and we are against foreign intervention," he told AFP ahead of an Arab foreign ministers' meeting in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

"I don't think military solutions can be the start of a resolution. We support peaceful solutions," he said.

EU fears 'serious regional consequences'

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on Thursday warned of regional risks from fighting in Yemen and said there could be no military solution.

"The latest events in Yemen have dramatically worsened the already fragile situation in the country and risk having serious regional consequences," Mogherini, the former Italian foreign minister, said in a statement.

"I'm convinced that military action is not a solution," Mogherini said.

The advance of Shiite Houthi rebels and air strikes on President Hadi's compound in Aden were "unacceptable steps towards escalating an already polarised situation," she said, adding that they had "triggered today's Saudi-led airstrikes."

"At this critical juncture all regional actors should act responsibly and constructively, to create as a matter of urgency the conditions for a return to negotiations," Mogherini said.

"Only a broad political consensus through negotiations can provide a sustainable solution, restore peace, and preserve the unity and territorial integrity of Yemen."

The top EU diplomat said that the ability of "extremist and terrorist groups" to take advantage of the situation would "increase dramatically" without a peaceful solution in Yemen.