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25 killed in Saudi-led operation against Yemen's Houthis (Roundup)

IANS  |  Sanaa/Riyadh/Cairo 

Saudi Arabia's warplanes raided military camps of the Shia Houthi group in Yemen's capital Sanaa on Thursday, killing at least 25 civilians and wounding 50 others, as Riyadh led a joint Gulf Arab nations' operation in the crisis-hit country.

Warplanes struck the al-Dailamy air force base in northern Sanaa and destroyed the runway, adjacent to the civil airport, a defence ministry official told Xinhua news agency, declining to be named.

The strikes also targeted weapons depots at a missile base in the southern part of Sanaa, which is controlled by the army loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has sided with the Houthis rebels.

Rescue personnel found at least 15 houses in the civilian compound of the air base destroyed in the air raid. They said they found 25 bodies till Thursday afternoon, and that more victims may be recovered after debris was removed.

Meanwhile, 50 other civilians living near the air base and injured in the attack have been sent to hospitals for treatment.

The Houthi-run al-Maseera TV reported that dozens of people were killed overnight. It gave no details.

The Sanaa international airport was damaged during the air raid and has been shut down.

Intensified sounds of anti-aircraft artillery could be heard across the capital city. Residents near the airport said they heard explosions and saw fires in different places in the military base of al-Dailamy.

They said Houthi fighters deployed several anti-aircraft guns on the main streets in Sanaa.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar said on Thursday they have decided to act to protect Yemen against "aggression" by the Houthi militia, according to a joint statement.

According to the Saudi Press Agency, Jordan, Sudan, Morocco, Egypt and Pakistan have also declared their willingness to participate in operation codenamed Al-Hazm, reported on Thursday.

Efe news agency reported from Cairo that Egypt announced on Thursday its political and military support for the legitimate government in Yemen, saying it would send armed forces "if necessary".

"There is ongoing coordination with Saudi Arabia and the brotherly Gulf countries regarding the preparations to participate with Egyptian air, naval and ground forces, if necessary," state-run MENA news agency quoted the Egyptian ministry of foreign affairs as saying in a statement.

In Amman, the Jordanian government announced on Thursday that it would participate in the military operation against the Shia Houthi movement "to support the legitimacy in Yemen", referring to Yemeni President Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

According to official Jordanian news agency Petra, Jordan's involvement in Operation al-Hazm "is part of a coordinated effort in support of Yemen's security and stability".

Pakistan on Thursday said it was examining Saudi Arabia's request to join the operation in Yemen.

Advisor to Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz confirmed that top Saudi officials had contacted the Pakistani leadership requesting it to join the Yemen operation, Dawn online reported.

A decision has not yet been taken, Aziz said.

According to a Xinhua report from Tehran, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif said on Thursday that the Saudi-led airstrikes on Yemen were not in the interest of any country and should be stopped immediately.

"This operation violates Yemen's sovereignty and will only result in bloodshed," Zarif was quoted as saying by state IRIB TV.

"The Saudi-led raid will further escalate tension in the region and benefit no country," he said, adding Iran would try to help control the crisis in Yemen.

The Iranian foreign minister, who is currently in Switzerland for talks on Iran's controversial nuclear issue, urged the political parties involved in the conflict in Yemen to return to the negotiation table to settle their differences.

Mohammed al-Boukhaiti, a member of the Houthi political bureau, told Xinhua that "Saudi aggression is a declaration of war against the Yemeni people and we will fight them".

The General People's Congress, a former ruling party led by Saleh, said in a statement posted on its website that "the Saudi air aggression violates the Charter of the United Nations and the agreement signed by the Saudi and Yemeni governments".

Yemeni President Hadi and his main ally Saudi Arabia have accused Saleh of supporting the Houthi group to overrun the country.

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First Published: Thu, March 26 2015. 20:26 IST