War planes attacked Yemen's capital Sana'a through the night on Friday and stopped around dawn, residents of the city told Reuters on Saturday.
“There were planes strikes all through the night and stopped at dawn,” said a resident in Sana'a, adding that explosions were heard in an area west of the capital were a government national guard base was located.
There was no detail on whether the planes belonged to the Saudi-led coalition which launched attacks against Yemen’s Shia Houthi group on Thursday.
Earlier, Yemen's Houthi rebels made broad gains in the country's south and east on Friday despite a second day of Saudi-led air strikes meant to check the Iranian-backed militia's efforts to overthrow President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Shia Muslim Houthi fighters and allied army units gained their first foothold on Yemen’s Arabian Sea coast by seizing the port of Shaqra 100km east of Aden, residents told Reuters .
Explosions and crackles of small gunfire rang out across Aden late on Friday as Houthis made a push on the southern port city's airport, a witness said.
The advances threaten Mr. Hadi’s last refuge in Yemen and potentially undermine the air campaign to support him.
The spokesman for the Saudi-led operation, Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, told a news conference in Riyadh that defending the Aden government was the campaign's “main objective”.
“The operation will continue as long as there is a need for it to continue,” Mr. Asseri said.
Warplanes targeted Houthi forces controlling Yemen's capital Sanaa and their northern heartland on Friday. Mr. Asseri said that planes from the United Arab Emirates had carried out their first strikes in the past 24 hours.
In a boost for Saudi Arabia, Morocco said it would join the rapidly assembled Sunni Muslim coalition against the Houthis. Pakistan, named by Saudi Arabia as a partner, said it had made no decision on whether to contribute.
Yemen on the brink
Who are fighting whom?
- ›Houthis: The rebel group controls nine of 21 provinces now
- ›Saudi-led coalition: Here is some of those who are participating and what they are deploying: Saudi Arabia: 100 fighter jets, 150,000 soldiers and some naval units UAE: 30 fighter jets Bahrain: 15 fighter jets Kuwait: 15 fighter jets Qatar: 10 fighter jets Jordan: 6 fighter jets Sudan: 3 fighter jets Egypt: naval and air forces involved.
- ›Yemeni security forces: The military is now split as units that support Hadi, units that support the Houthis, and units that support a still-influential Saleh, who is in the Houthi camp for now
- ›Popular Resistance Committees: Militia loyal to Hadi in his stronghold of south Yemen.
- ›AQAP: Hadi and Houthis are fighting al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has staged several attacks in the country and is strong in the south. Active since 2009. AQAP has taken advantage of the power struggle.
- ›IS: A new group of militants inspired by the Islamic State group has claimed major attacks, including suicide bombings which killed at least 142 people at Shia mosques in Sana’a.
- ›U.S.: CIA drones have continued to target top AQAP leaders, but the campaign has suffered from Hadi’s absenc. Last week, U.S. military advisers were withdrawn from a southern base as al-Qaeda militants seized a nearby city.
Who are the Houthis?
The Houthis are followers of the Shia Zaidi sect, the faith of around a third of Yemen’s population. Officially known as Ansarallah (the partisans of God), the group began as a movement preaching tolerance and peace in the Zaidi stronghold of North Yemen in the early 1990s.
After some protests pitted it against the government, the group launched an insurgency in 2004 against the then ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh that lasted till 2010. Their opponents view them as a proxy of Shia Iran. The group is hostile to the United States but has also vowed to eradicate al-Qaeda. They participated in the 2011 Arab Spring inspired revolution in Yemen that replaced Saleh with Hadi.
Key dates to the Yemen conflict
- ›September 21, 2014: Houthi rebels seize government and military sites in Sana’a after several days of fighting that killed more than 270 people. Rival groups sign a U.N.-brokered peace deal stipulating a Houthi withdrawal from the capital and formation of a new government.
- ›October 9, 2014: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has declared war on the Houthis, claims an attack in Sana’a in which 47 are killed.
- ›October 14, 2014: The Houthis seize the Red Sea port of Hodeida, 230 km west of Sana’a, then move toward the centre without opposition from government forces but face fierce resistance from AQAP and its tribal allies.
- ›January 20, 2015: Houthis attack President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s residence and seize the presidential palace, and the President and Prime Minister resign two days later.
- ›February 6, 2015: The rebels announce they have dissolved Parliament and installed a presidential council to run the country. The United States and Gulf monarchies accuse Iran of backing the Houthis. In the south and southeast, authorities reject what they brand a coup attempt.
- ›February 21, 2015: Hadi flees south to Aden after escaping from weeks under house arrest and urges the international community to “reject the coup,” rescinding his resignation and subsequently declaring Aden the temporary capital.
- ›March 19, 2015: Clashes in which at least 11 are killed force the closure of the international airport in Aden and Hadi is moved to a more secure location after an air raid on the presidential palace there.
- ›March 22, 2015: The Houthis advance southwards, seizing the airport and a nearby military base in Taez, north of Aden and a strategic entry point to Hadi’s stronghold. Houthi leader Abdelmalek al-Houthi says the rebels have moved south to combat Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.
- ›March 25, 2015: Hadi is again moved as rebel forces bear down on Aden, capturing a major airbase nearby just days after U.S. military personnel were evacuated from it.