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Egyptian, Saudi Vessels Approach Yemen Coast

by Edward Yeranian March 27, 2015

Egypt's military says Saudi and Egyptian warships deployed Friday to the Bab al-Mandab strait off Yemen's coast to secure the strategic passage, as a Saudi-led coalition carried out airstrikes on rebel targets in Yemen for a second straight day.

Military officials told the Associated Press that Saudi and Egyptian vessels were at or near the strait.

Bab Al-Mandab is a critical waterway for Egypt's national security and is the main entrance for access to the Red Sea en route to the Suez Canal, a key route for shipping between Europe and Asia.

On Friday, Saudi-led coalition airstrikes pounded military bases and other Shi'ite Houthi rebel targets in an around the capital, Sana'a, where witnesses says jets struck at parts of the presidential palace complex, destroying a number of buildings. Military officials said airstrikes also targeted the northern province of Saada, home to the Houthi rebels.

Some two-dozen civilians are believed to have been killed in the ongoing wave of airstrikes; video from the scene showed the bodies of children being pulled from the rubble.

Coalition planes also were reported to have struck a Houthi radar installation in Maarib province and an airbase in Abyane province.

The commander of the Saudi-led operation insisted that airstrikes are being conducted with precision, dismissing evidence of civilian casualties.

He says that at the present time there no troops are being deployed on the ground, but if the need arises, Saudi ground troops, as well as those of friends and allies, are ready and will respond to any aggression of any kind.

A Saudi military spokesman said the Saudi-led airstrikes against Houthi rebels will continue as long as needed to protect the Yemeni government.

Meanwhile, Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi arrived in Egypt on Friday for a two-day summit in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik that will begin on Saturday and will likely be dominated by the crisis in Yemen.

The rebel advance through Yemen prompted Hadi to flee the country earlier this week. His location was unknown until Thursday when he reappeared in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia is leading a regional effort to oust the Shi'ite Houthi group that has taken over much of the country. A coalition of 10 countries, including five Gulf monarchies, is trying to defeat the Iran-backed Houthis and reinstall Yemen's internationally recognized government.

Iran, which denies funding and training the Shi'ite Houthis, has slammed the Saudi-led offensive as a dangerous step that will worsen the situation in Yemen.

On Friday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the airstrikes have to stop and that they will only cause the loss of lives. He called for dialogue and national reconciliation in Yemen, instead of making it more difficult for Yemenis to come together.

Yemen's acting Foreign Minister Riyadh Yasin said the airstrikes should weaken the Shi'ite Houthi rebels. He said he hopes the operation accomplishes its goals quickly and that it ends soon.

Pakistan — Saudi Arabia's longtime ally — said Friday it has not yet decided to join the coalition. Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told parliament Islamabad is ready to defend Saudi Arabia's territorial integrity 'at any cost,' but does not want to involve itself in a sectarian war.

Also Friday, the Arabic television network al-Jazeera condemned an attack by Houthi rebels on its bureau in Yemen's capital, Sana'a. The network said armed Houthis stormed the bureau, with guards reporting that the rebels destroyed security cameras, smashed the entrance door and ransacked the office contents.

Rebel leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi on Thursday blasted Saudi Arabia, as well as the United States, which is offering 'logistical and intelligence support' to the offensive.

'The foolish, stupid, unjust, oppressive and arrogant Saudi regime has gambled [on the support of] America and gambled on some other regimes, which it paid to buy their support,' the rebel leader said.

Houthi officials say at least 18 people were killed and 24 wounded in the Thursday airstrikes. There was no immediate word on casualties from the Friday bombings.

Yemen has sunk into violence and chaos since a popular uprising ousted longtime strongman President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012.

The Houthis, who are now allied with Saleh, have taken over the capital and have battled Sunnis and various tribes as they try to advance throughout the rest of the country.

Some information for this report comes from AP, AFP and Reuters.

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