Rebel supporters protest Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen after truce ended

Saudi-led airstrikes targeting Yemen's Shiite rebels resumed on Monday and fierce clashes were underway across the impoverished country after a five-day truce expired.

Khaled Abdullah/Reuters
Houthi followers demonstrate against Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen's capital Sanaa May 18, 2015. Saudi-led forces resumed military operations in Yemen after a five-day ceasefire ended late on Sunday, and Yemen's foreign minister blamed the Iranian-backed Houthis for failure to renew the truce.

Saudi-led airstrikes targeting Yemen's Shiite rebels resumed on Monday and fierce clashes were underway across the impoverished country after a five-day truce expired, as one-sided talks boycotted by the rebels offered little hope of ending the conflict.

As thousands of rebel supporters streamed into the streets of Sanaa, the capital, to protest the coalition airstrikes, fighting raged in the southern and western cities of Taiz, Dhale and Aden. Airstrikes meanwhile targeted the rebels, known as Houthis, in the northern province of Saada, the group's heartland, as well as Aden.

The cease-fire had been repeatedly violated, with the Houthis, and Saudi-backed forces loyal to exiled Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi trading blame for the continued violence.

Dozens of politicians and tribal leaders have been holding talks in the Saudi capital to discuss a way out of the crisis, but the rebels boycotted the meeting and Iran, which supports the Houthis, objected to the venue.

The coalition accuses Shiite-majority Iran of arming the Houthi rebels as part of a larger struggle with Sunni Saudi Arabia over regional influence, something the Islamic Republic and the rebels deny.

The Riyadh dialogue is set to conclude Tuesday. The Houthis reject the main aim of the talks — the restoration of Hadi, who fled the country in March in the face of rebel advances — and their location in Saudi Arabia, which since March 26 has been leading an air campaign against the Houthis and allied military units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The truce appears to have allowed the Houthis and their allies to deploy more troops to Aden, where there has been heavy fighting for weeks. Hadi had declared a temporary capital in the southern city before he fled. The Houthis captured Sanaa last year.

The Houthis and allied forces took over the southern city of Lawdar last week, which would allow them to funnel forces into Aden from the north. Witnesses said the rebels detained dozens of pro-government militiamen in Lawdar and destroyed their houses. The witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns. In Dhale, another gateway to Aden, pro-government militia commander Ahmed Harmel said fierce clashes raged overnight.

In Taiz, Yemen's third largest city, street battles raged throughout the cease-fire. Medical officials there said more than 41 civilians have been killed and 230 wounded over the past month. They blamed most of the deaths on what they said was random shelling on residential areas by Houthis and allied forces.

Coalition airstrikes meanwhile struck rebel positions, artillery pieces and tanks in several neighborhoods of Aden after the cease-fire expired at 11 p.m. (2000 GMT) Sunday, Yemeni security officials said. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

The Houthis reported continuing airstrikes in their northern heartland of Saada near the Saudi border, which has come under heavy bombardment in recent weeks as the rebels have staged cross-border attacks.

From his exile in Riyadh, Yemen's Foreign Minister Riad Yassin told the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya network Monday that there are no ongoing talks to renew the humanitarian pause, which he said the Houthis had violated.

Also on Monday, Ali Akbar Velayati, an adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told reporters during a visit to Beirut that a dialogue on Yemen should be mediated by an international organization, such as the United Nations, and held in a "neutral country."

Describing the Saudi-led airstrikes as "savage," Velayati said the kingdom was too deeply involved in the conflict to host peace talks.

"A national dialogue should be held ... in a neutral country that has no links to Riyadh or other sides who are part of the conflict," Velayati said.

Yemen's conflict has killed more than 1,400 people — many of them civilians — since March 19, according to the U.N. The country of some 25 million people has endured shortages of food, water, medicine and electricity as a result of a Saudi-led blockade. Humanitarian organizations had been scrambling to distribute aid before the end of the truce.


Associated Press Writer Bassem Mroue contributed to this report from Beirut.

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