Yemen crisis: Houthi rebels are Iran stooges, says Hadi

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Image source, AFP
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A series of explosions rocked an arms depot in Yemen's second city, Aden

Yemen President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi has accused Iran of destabilising the country, calling Houthi rebels the "stooges of Iran".

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia says military intervention in Yemen will continue until the country is "stable and safe".

A fourth night of airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition has hit cities across the country.

The conflict has been described by correspondents as a proxy war between Sunni Arab nations and Shia Iran.

President Hadi was speaking at an Arab League summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, days after having to flee Yemen as rebels advanced on his stronghold of Aden.

He plans to stay abroad until the situation settles, Yemeni Foreign Minister Riad Yassin said.

The Saudi-led Operation Decisive Storm has the support of several Arab League members. It was sparked by Wednesday's rebel advance towards Aden.

On Saturday, news agency Agence France-Presse reported supporters of President Hadi had recaptured the airport in Aden from the Shia rebel militia.

Reuters reported Saudi Arabia's navy evacuated 86 foreign diplomats and Saudi nationals from Aden on Saturday and the United Nations pulled out most of its 100 international workers from the capital Sanaa.

Analysis: BBC's Orla Guerin in Sharm el-Sheikh

Iran is the spectre hanging over this gathering of Arab leaders. When a coalition of Sunni-led states began bombing Houthi rebels in Yemen three days ago, this was a shot across the bow for Shia Iran.

The intervention is an attempt to curb Iran's growing influence in the Arab world, as well as to save the presidency of Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Both will be difficult tasks.

While other leaders at the summit made veiled references to Tehran, President Hadi - who just days ago was in hiding - was blunt. He described the Shia Houthi rebels who are trying to topple him as "Iranian stooges".

Yemen is now the backdrop for a larger conflict which already looks like a proxy war between Sunni states - especially regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia - and Iran. What's unclear is how far Arab leaders are prepared to take this conflict, or how much it may escalate.

While leaders spoke at the summit, explosions rocked an arms depot in Aden after it was looted by residents. At least 15 people were killed and dozens wounded the director general of Yemen's health ministry, al-Khadher Laswar said.

Saudi air strikes have also destroyed ballistic missiles captured by the Houthis close to the Saudi border, Gulf officials said.

More than 68 people have been killed and 452 wounded in Aden since Wednesday, Yemen's health ministry said.

The fighting risks "disastrous consequences" for the Yemeni people, the UN warned - it is already the poorest country in the Middle East, with over 60% of the population requiring aid.

With no sign of an end to the current military campaign, the Yemeni president said that military intervention must continue until the Houthi rebels surrendered.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Rebel positions at the airport in the capital Sanaa have been targeted
Image source, Reuters
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Residents have been fleeing the capital as the campaign continues

At the summit, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for the creation of a joint Arab military force to deal with "unprecedented threats" in the region.

Egypt has already pledged planes, warships and troops to the coalition. President Sisi referred to "foreign interference" in Yemen - a coded reference to Iran, according to analysts.

On Friday, Mr Yassin said there was an "arrangement" for ground troops of the Saudi-led coalition to deploy in Yemen.

Iran is alleged to be supporting the Houthis. The rebels officially deny this, but senior figures have been seen in the Iranian city of Qom and there are unconfirmed reports of Iranian pilots flying Yemeni planes, reports the BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardner.

Speaking after President Hadi, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for negotiations to avoid "a long, drawn-out conflict".

The Houthis have said their aim is to replace Mr Hadi's government, which they accuse of being corrupt.

Rebel leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi has vowed not to surrender to what he called the "unjustified aggression".

Iran has also criticised the Saudi intervention. "They have to stop," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Friday.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Houthi rebels have taken to the streets to defy Saudi led airstrikes
Image source, Reuters
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Soldiers and militiamen loyal to the president failed to halt rebel forces advancing southwards

The Houthis: Zaidi Shia-led rebels from the north, who seized control of Sanaa last year and have since been expanding their control

President Hadi: Fled to Saudi Arabia after rebel forces advanced on his stronghold in the southern city of Aden

Ali Abdullah Saleh: Despite being forced out to hand over power in 2011, the former Yemeni president remains an influential figure. His supporters have been fighting alongside the Houthis

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula: Seen by the US as the most dangerous offshoot of al-Qaeda, AQAP opposes both the Houthis and President Hadi

Islamic State: A Yemeni affiliate of IS has recently emerged, which seeks to eclipse AQAP

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