Arab coalition pounds Huthi positions in Sanaa
SANAA - Saudi-led coalition warplanes pounded Iran-backed rebel positions in Sanaa on Monday as the insurgents called a mass rally to celebrate the first anniversary of their seizure of Yemen's capital.
Despite six months of coalition air strikes in support of exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, expanded into a ground operation in late July, the Huthi rebels still control much of north and central Yemen.
The rebels declared September 21 a public holiday to mark the "revolution" as their delegation headed to Oman for renewed consultations with UN special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed aimed at seeking a way out of the impasse.
The Huthis overran Sanaa unopposed one year ago with the backing of renegade troops still loyal to Hadi's ousted predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Monday's pre-dawn air strikes on Sanaa targeted Saleh supporters as well as the Shiite Huthis, witnesses said.
One raid went for the home of a leading lawmaker from Saleh's General People's Congress party, Ahmed al-Kahlani, they said.
Others targeted arms depots controlled by pro-Saleh army units in the east of the city.
Saleh is himself a Shiite, but the Huthis' alliance with the ousted strongman was widely seen as a marriage of convenience as they led repeated rebellions against his rule before his overthrow after a bloody Arab Spring-inspired uprising in 2011.
The rebels urged their supporters to turn out in force to mark the anniversary of their seizure of Sanaa and "prove to the world that the people stand by the leadership of the revolution".
Rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Huthi said the rebellion will continue "until the country enjoys independence and stability" and "the people benefit from its wealth".
A statement said he welcomed diplomatic efforts as long as they "do not harm the national sovereignty, legitimise the aggression and lessen the rights of the Yemeni people".
- Rebels reinforce Marib -
The rebels have lost five southern provinces to forces loyal to the exiled president since July, and are battling an offensive in Marib province east of the capital.
They sent reinforcements on Monday from Sanaa to the flashpoint of Sirwah west of Marib city, military officials loyal to Hadi said.
Hundreds of rebels also headed for the central city of Taez where clashes are ongoing. Medical sources there said bombing has killed five civilians.
Loyalists and coalition air raids have killed 18 rebels since Sunday in attacks on their positions north and west of Marib, loyalist military sources said.
The Marib offensive began after an early-September missile strike on a coalition base in the province killed 67 coalition soldiers, including 52 from the United Arab Emirates.
An analyst estimates that the coalition has more than 5,000 troops in Yemen, supporting local forces.
Prime Minister Khaled Bahah returned from exile to the main southern city of Aden last week, but acknowledged that his government still faces challenges, even in the south.
"The future challenge is how to prepare ourselves to defend this city and neighbouring provinces," he said.
Bahah said the armed forces need to be restructured on a national foundation and "not on regional and partisan bases", in an apparent reference to the north-south divide.
Southerners have traditionally complained of marginalisation, since northern forces crashed a secession attempt in the formerly independent South Yemen in 1994.
South Yemen was independent between the end of British colonial rule in 1967 and its union with the north in 1990.
The United Nations says nearly 4,900 people have been killed since late March in Yemen, where the UN aid chief has called the scale of human suffering "almost incomprehensible".