Informed sources disclosed that Ansarullah fighters are preparing for large-scale military defense operations to strike back at Saudi Arabia’s invasion, that will include closure of the strategic Bab al-Mandeb Strait.
Iraqi troops started the final phase of an offensive to recapture Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit today, a military official said, just hours after the United States launched airstrikes on the Islamic State-held city.
The push, however, is going ahead without the country’s Iran-backed Shiite militias, which had been instrumental to the operation so far and which backed out in a protest over the U.S. action.
A militia spokesman, Mouin al-Kadhimy, said today that many of the Shiite fighters would boycott the Tikrit operation because of the “harmful” involvement of US airstrikes.
Later in the day, clashes intensified as Iraqi troops and special forces moved toward the city center, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi told The Associated Press. Earlier Thursday, an AP reporter heard a second round of airstrikes over Tikrit.
The Islamic State group seized the Sunni city last summer during its lightning advance across northern and western Iraq. The battle for Tikrit is seen as a key step toward eventually driving the Islamic State group from Iraq’s second largest city Mosul, which is further north.
In an address late yesterday, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Iraqi forces began the “final phase” in the Tikrit offensive but did not acknowledge that U.S.-
led coalition forces were playing a direct role. He said Iraqis, “and not anyone but you,” will claim victory against the militant group.
At Iraq’s request, the US began airstrikes on Tikrit on Wednesday in support of the stalled ground offensive, Lt Gen James L Terry, the commander of the US-led campaign to defeat the Islamic State group, said.
He said the airstrikes would “destroy ISIL strongholds with precision, thereby saving innocent Iraqi lives while minimizing” unintended damage to civilian structures. ISIL is one of the acronyms for the Islamic State group.
Warplanes attacked two districts in the northern home province of Yemen’s rebel Houthi movement around dawn Friday, tribal sources said, a day after a Saudi-led coalition began airstrikes in support of Yemen President Abd Rabbou Mansour Hadi.
The strikes hit a market in Kataf al-Bokaa in the north of Saada province, killing or wounding 15 people, they said. Shada district was also struck, they said.
Egyptian security and military officials say Saudi Arabia and Egypt will lead a ground operation in Yemen against Shiite rebels and their allies after a campaign of airstrikes to weaken them.
Three senior officials tell The Associated Press that forces would enter by land from Saudi Arabia and by sea from the Red Sea and Arabian Sea.
They said Thursday that other nations will also be involved.
They would not specify troop numbers or say when the operation would start, only that it would be after airstrikes weaken the rebels and allied forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
They say the offensive aims to push the rebels into negotiations on power sharing. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.
Abdul Salam Mohammed, director of the Research Center of Yemen “Abaad” spoke to Sputnik regarding the Saudi-led airstrikes against the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
According to Mohammed he does not think there will be a ground operation, as the coalition limits itself to air strikes only, because almost the entirety of Yemen is well armed and ground operations would lead to large losses for the coalition.
“One of the camps was directly under the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and was the basis for the preparation of special units of Houthi rebels. The coalition airstrikes also bombed warehouses with missiles and the airport in the southern Yemen city of Aden. Basically the strikes are being carried out not only in Sana’a, but also in other parts of Yemen,” said Mohammed.
He further noted, “These attacks did not cause so much material damage as a moral one, because the public morale is very low due to these attacks.”
Mohammed acknowledged that the only drawback for the Houthi rebels is that they do not have air support. Regarding participation of other nations he said that he doubts Iran will take part.
“Iran will not intervene directly, because they are involved in the Syrian crisis and also linked to Iraq in the fight against the Islamic State. So the only thing Iran can do is provide logistical support.”
France on Thursday firmly condemned the action of de-stabilisation by Houthi-led rebels in Yemen and expressed once again its support for the legitimate Yemen government under President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, a Foreign Ministry statement said.
France also called on all supporters of the Houthi rebels to stop this support and return to political dialogue.
The Foreign Ministry statement followed the intervention by a broad Arab coalition, supported by other nations, including Turkey, to support President Hadi and to combat the Houthi rebellion that has taken place in the north of Yemen but is threatening also many areas in the south.
“Military operations were carried out during the night by several countries in the region in response to a request from the legitimate authorities in Yemen,” Paris said.
“France reaffirms its support to the government of Yemen and to President Hadi,” it added.
The Foreign Ministry here also said that France “firmly condemns the destabilisation actions carried out by the Houthi rebellion and calls on those that are supporting it to dissociate themselves from it immediately and come back to the political process.”
Paris expressed ongoing concern about the situation created by the Houthi rebellion and expressed solidarity with all in the region who are seeking to end the ongoing instability.
“Faced with this worrying situation, France stands by the side of its partners in the region in order to restore stability and unity in Yemen,” the Foreign Ministry said.
“I affirm complete support” for the campaign, he said at a meeting of Arab foreign ministers. “It is an operation against targets belonging to the Huthis who committed a coup.”
Warplanes from Saudi Arabia and Arab allies struck Shiite Muslim rebels fighting to oust Yemen’s president Thursday.
“I’m convinced that military action is not a solution,” Mogherini said in a statement. “At this critical juncture all regional actors should act responsibly and constructively, to create as a matter of urgency the conditions for a return to negotiations.”