Saudi-led warplanes pound Yemen's rebels; officials criticize Saudi weapons airdrops



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SANAA, Yemen — Saudi-led coalition warplanes pounded Shiite rebels and their allies overnight and throughout the day Tuesday in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, and in the south, while officials loyal to the country's exiled government criticized past attempts by the coalition to airdrop weapons to pro-government fighters in Yemen.

Since March 26, an alliance of the kingdom and several mostly Gulf Arab countries has been carrying out daily airstrikes against Yemen's Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, and their allies — army units loyal to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh. So far, the U.S.-backed campaign has failed to reign in the Iran-backed rebels who last year captured Sanaa and much of the country's north.

Overnight, multiple explosions shook Sanaa as warplanes dropped bombs, targeting several rebel-held army camps, trucks carrying weapons and houses turned into weapons' depots for the Houthis, according to residents and officials.

The residents, speaking on condition of anonymity because they feared for their own safety, said heavy smoke blanketed Sanaa. In the city's northern district of al-Nahda, several strikes hit large caches of weapons stored inside the villas of two top Shiite rebel leaders, officials said.

Around midday, airstrikes hit the Sanaa airport, setting a plane owned by a private company on fire, according to a statement released by the Houthis.

The airstrikes also continued Tuesday in the southern port city of Aden, targeting a police commando camp run by commanders loyal to Saleh. In Aden, and western city of Dhale, poorly trained and lightly armed pro-government fighters have been resisting a rebel siege.

Fighters battling the rebels on the ground around Aden and Dhale have said that they are running out of ammunition, according to local officials loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, now in exile in Saudi Arabia.

Past attempts to airdrop weapons to pro-government fighters have failed and the arms have often ended up falling into the wrong hands, including those of al-Qaida's active and dangerous Yemen branch, pro-Hadi officials said.

Mohammed Maram, head of the presidential office, held a meeting in Aden with governors of four southern provinces and top military commanders, including Maj. Gen. Ali Nasser Hadi, who described the past airlifts as a "failed and unorganized process."

Sanaa, Aden and Taiz —the third largest city in Yemen — have been declared "disaster zones" by the internationally-recognized government in exile, which said the humanitarian situation is on verge of collapse.

The attendees at the Aden meeting said at least two other cities should be added to the list of disaster zones — Abyan and Lahj.

Meanwhile, a Saudi soldier was killed and another wounded in a gunfight with the Houthis along the kingdom's southern border with Yemen, according to a Saudi security official. No further details were given about where or when the fighting took place. At least seven other Saudi soldiers have been killed in separate clashes this month along the Saudi-Yemen border.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.


Associated Press writer Aya Batrawy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, contributed to this report.

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