Naval forces from Saudi Arabia moved to block ports in Yemen in an effort to prevent weapons and fighters from coming in and out of the country as coalition airstrikes continue to target Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
“The move to block ports appeared aimed at preventing the rebels, known as Houthis, from rearming, and comes after the coalition achieved full control of the skies and bombed a number of rebel-held airports,” notes The Associated Press (AP). “The rebels are supported by Iran, but both Iran and the Houthis deny Tehran has armed them.”
Overnight into Tuesday, Saudi-led airstrikes continued to hit Iran-backed Houthi rebels in at least nine of Yemen’s 21 provinces, including the country’s capital Sanaa.
“It’s like an earthquake,” Sanaa resident Ammar Ahmed told AP by telephone. “Never in my life have I heard such explosions or heard such raids.”
“There were huge blazes in the mountains outside Sanaa. It looks like they hit a missile depot and it was on fire for half an hour or so. Then there was anti-aircraft fire until dawn,” a Sanaa resident told Reuters.
AP describes the conflict as “a major escalation in the regional struggle for influence between Saudi Arabia and Iran.”
On Sunday, leaders from various Arab nations including Saudi Arabia and Egypt agreed to form a unified military coalition against Iranian influence and Islamic extremism, a plan that could further raise tensions between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.
“The daily airstrikes have bred a climate of anxiety and uncertainty in [Yemeni capital] Sanaa,” points out AP. “Schools are shuttered, residents are staying indoors, and hundreds have fled to the safety of nearby villages.”
The Houthis have reportedly arrested nearly 140 foreign nationals since the Saudi-led air campaign began last week on suspicion that they are collaborating with the Saudis, providing them with intelligence.
Houthi rebels have teamed up with security forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Houthis and their allies are fighting to overthrow the administration of U.S.-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is the internationally recognized leader of Yemen.
Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asseri, the Saudi Arabia coalition spokesman, showed footage of airstrikes hitting what he claimed were Yemeni army tanks and arms depots seized by the Houthis.
An unnamed U.S. official quoted by Reuters indicated that Saudi Arabia has little appetite for engaging in a ground offensive.
“The objective here is to get to a point where the Houthis halt their destabilizing actions and come back to the table,” reportedly said the American official.
So far, the U.S. has been providing the Saudi-led campaign with intelligence and logistical support, without carrying out direct military action.
“An air strike on Monday killed at least 40 people at a camp for displaced people in northern Yemen, humanitarian workers said, in an attack apparently aimed at the Houthis,” reports Reuters.
“In the southern city of Baihan in Shabwa province, airstrikes mistakenly struck a gathering of anti-Houthi tribesmen, causing a number of deaths and injuries, a tribal leader said on condition of anonymity, citing security concerns,” adds AP. “It was not clear how many were killed.”
Follow Edwin Mora on Twitter: @EdwinMora83