Huthi forces fall apart in face of Saudi-led Arab coalition
ADEN (Yemen) - The commanders of a vast military district in Yemen have backed the exiled president as the leader of Huthi rebels vowed to never submit in the face of a Saudi-led air war.
The Saudi-led air strikes continued on Monday and a series of explosions shook the Yemeni capital after warplanes hit a missile depot in Sanaa belonging to troops allied with the Shiite rebels.
In a vital show of support for President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, the military command of 25,000 troops in Yemen's largest province said they were standing behind the embattled leader.
"The officers, non-commissioned officers and the soldiers of the First Military Region based in Hadramawt back President Hadi, who represents constitutional legitimacy," their chief, General Abdelrahman Al-Halili, said in a statement.
The military district extends from Yemen's eastern border with Oman to the Saudi frontier to the north and includes several oil fields.
The pledge came after Yemeni authorities called last week for military commanders to show their support against the Iran-backed Huthi militiamen.
The Shiite rebels have seized control of large parts of the Arabian Peninsula nation, including the capital Sanaa, and fought fierce battles with pro-government forces.
A coalition of Sunni Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia launched the air campaign against the rebels last month, vowing to restore the authority of Hadi, who fled to Riyadh as the militiamen advanced on his southern stronghold of Aden.
Thick smoke billowed from the site of a missile base on Fajj Attan hill in the south of Sanaa after it was hit by warplanes, while buildings in several neighbourhoods of the capital were shaken, witnesses said.
The base belongs to the elite Republican Guard, which remains loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh who has been accused of siding with Huthi rebels in their fight against the government.
Pre-dawn strikes targeted Aden's airport and rebel positions in other parts of the city on Monday, sources in pro-government forces said.
Fighting raged elsewhere in the south, with at least 21 Huthis killed in the cities of Dahleh and Huta, sources said.
Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri, the spokesman for the coalition, said Sunday that it had launched more than 2,000 air strikes since the start of the operation.
The coalition was in complete control of Yemeni airspace and had knocked out rebel air defences and communication networks, he said.
The clashes and air strikes have left hundreds dead and thousands wounded, according to the United Nations, and raised fears of a major humanitarian crisis in the already impoverished country.
The Huthis, who descended from their northern stronghold to seize Sanaa in September, have accused Saudi Arabia of interfering in Yemen's internal affairs.
"Our Yemeni people will never give in -- it will resist in the face of the savage aggression," their leader, Abdulmalik al-Huthi, said in televised statement on Sunday.
He vowed to fight back using "all means and options" and said Riyadh "has no right to interfere" in the country.
Huthi also slammed as "unfair" a UN Security Council resolution on Tuesday imposing an arms embargo on the rebels and demanding that they return to their highland stronghold.
The Huthis have been backed in their rebellion by forces loyal to Saleh, forced out in a 2011 Arab Spring-inspired uprising.
But in what will be seen as another welcome sign for Hadi, Saleh on Sunday welcomed the Security Council resolution as a "positive" step, with his party backing calls for a ceasefire and UN-mediated talks.
Concern has been growing for Yemeni civilians, with the UN agency for refugees saying up to 150,000 people have been forced from their homes in the last three weeks alone.
Residents have described widespread suffering amid shortages of food, water, electricity and fuel.
Yemen has long struggled with deep tribal divisions and an insurgency by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), considered by Washington as the jihadist network's most dangerous branch.
Al-Qaeda militants have taken advantage of the chaos to seize territory including an army camp in Hadramawt, an airport and provincial capital Mukalla.