Yemen president flees as Saudis keep up air strikes

Yemen president flees as Saudis keep up air strikes
Shite Houthi rebels have conquered much of Yemen as President Hadi flees to Saudi Arabia for refuge and military help.

Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi left his refuge in Aden for Saudi Arabia on Thursday as Houthi rebels battled with his forces on the outskirts of the southern port city.

Throughout the day, warplanes from Saudi Arabia and Arab allies struck at the Shi'ite Houthis and allied army units, who have taken over much of the country and seek to oust Hadi.

Warplanes resumed bombing the Houthi-held capital Sanaa on Thursday evening, shaking whole neighborhoods and terrifying residents. Several civilians have been reported killed in Sanaa.

"My whole family and I are preparing to sleep in the basement, as it's the safest part of the house," said resident Fawzia Nedras.

"The windows are rattling and we think they may break. We live near the airport, where we think a lot of the Houthi leaders are living and many of the air strikes are."

Houthi leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi said in a televised speech Yemenis would confront the "criminal, unjust and unjustified aggression" by Saudi Arabia.

Residents and security officials said the second night of air strikes throughout Yemen targeted air and ground force bases loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose forces have bolstered the Houthi advance.

The Saudi-led military intervention marked a major escalation of the Yemen crisis, in which Iran supports the Shi'ite Muslim Houthis, and Sunni Muslim monarchies in the Gulf back Hadi and his fellow Sunnis in Yemen's south.

Iran denounced the surprise assault on the Houthis and demanded an immediate halt to Saudi-led military operations.

Tehran also made clear Saudi Arabia's deployment of a coalition of Sunni states against its Shi'ite enemies would inflame the sectarian hatreds already fuelling wars around the Middle East.

Hadi's departure under Saudi protection from Aden, his embattled base since fleeing Sanaa in February, could be a turning point.

Saudi state news showed pictures of Hadi smiling and holding hands with the Saudi defence minister receiving him at an airport in the capital Riyadh and said he would go on to Egypt to attend an Arab summit on Saturday.

Mohammed Marem, the director of Hadi's office, confirmed he would attend the meeting in person, dropping his original plan to address it via video link.

Hadi would seek a "Marshall Plan" from Arab leaders to aid his war-torn country, his foreign minister Riyadh Yaseen told pan-Arab Al Jazeera TV, referring to a major economic stimulus for Europe after World War Two.

It was far from certain whether Hadi would be able to return to Aden.

On the city's northern outskirts, Houthis and allied troops fought gun battles with militiamen loyal to Hadi. Thirteen pro-Houthi fighters and three militiamen were killed and several others were killed in running street fights in nearby towns.

Pro-Hadi fighters retook Aden airport, a day after it was captured by Houthi forces. The facility remained closed.

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