Middle East Updates Yemen's Houthi Rebels Seize First Foothold on Arabian Sea

Saudi-led campaign strikes Yemen capital, Morocco joins alliance U.S. drops graphic anti-ISIS leaflets over Syria's Raqqa UN more than doubles its count of besieged in Syria to 440,000.

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Shi'ite rebels, known as Houthis, hold up their weapons to protest against Saudi-led airstrikes, during a rally in Sanaa, Yemen, March 26, 2015.
Shi'ite rebels, known as Houthis, hold up their weapons to protest against Saudi-led airstrikes, during a rally in Sanaa, Yemen, March 26, 2015.Credit: AP

For Thursday's updates, click here

Illustration by Eran Wolkowski

Latest updates:

8:20 P.M. UN's Ban Ki-moon to discuss Yemen crisis with Arab leaders at Egypt summit

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told al-Arabiya television on Friday he would discuss the crisis in Yemen with Arab leaders attending a March 28-29 summit in Egypt.

"I will discuss the Yemen crisis with Arab leaders in Sharm El-Sheikh including (Saudi Arabia's) King Salman," he said through an Arabic translator. (Reuters)

7:54 P.M. Saudi Arabia: Chief goal of Yemen operation is to protect Yemen government

The chief goal of the Saudi-led operation in neighboring Yemen is to secure the embattled seat of government in the southern city of Aden, spokesman for the coalition Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri told a press conference in Riyadh.

"I want to confirm that the operation itself has as its main objective to protect the government in Aden," Asseri said. (Reuters)

7:51 P.M. Yemeni President Hadi arrives in Egypt for Arab League summit

Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi arrived in Egypt on Friday for an Arab League summit which will focus on the Saudi-led military campaign against his Houthi militia opponents.

Hadi left his refuge in Aden for Saudi Arabia on Thursday as Houthi fighters battled with his forces on the outskirts of the southern port city. (Reuters)

7:20 P.M. Yemen's Houthi rebels seize first foothold on Arabian Sea

Yemen's Houthi militia and allied army units seized the southern city of Shaqra in Abyan province on Friday, residents told Reuters, gaining their first foothold on the Arabian Sea.

Their entry into the city means they control all the land entries to the port of Aden, some 100 km (60 miles) to the southwest, which is the last base of their embattled enemy, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

During a week of intense fighting with the president's loyalists, the Houthis have grabbed the Red Sea port of al-Mukha to Aden's northwest, and the city's northern outskirts, suggesting Aden is danger, despite a second day of Saudi-led airstrikes against Houthi forces. (Reuters)

5:58 P.M. U.S.-led coalition conducts 10 airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq

U.S. and coalition forces conducted 10 airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq during a 24-hour period, while U.S. forces led six air strikes in Syria, the U.S. military said on Friday.

The air strikes in Syria were concentrated near Kobani, destroying five fighting positions, according to a statement.

Three of the strikes in Iraq were near Tikrit, destroying vehicles and a potential car bomb. Forces also hit Islamic State targets near Bayji, Fallujah, Mosul, Sinjar, and Tal Afar, the statement said. (Reuters)

4:33 P.M. Iran foreign minister: Turkey's Erdogan fomenting strife in Middle East

Iran's foreign minister accused Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Friday of fomenting strife in the Middle East, rebuffing his accusation that Iran was trying to dominate the region.

"It would be better if those who have created irreparable damages with their strategic mistakes and lofty politics would adopt responsible policies," Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency.

"Under the current circumstances, all countries must work toward establishing stability and preventing the spread of insecurity in the region," Zarif, who is attending negotiations on Iran's disputed nuclear program in Switzerland, added. (Reuters) Read full story here

3:45 P.M. Yemen FM: Anti-Houthi operation likely to last days, not weeks

The Arab military campaign against Yemen's Houthi militia is likely to last days rather than weeks, Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyadh Yaseen told Saudi-owned al-Arabiya television on Friday.

In answer to a question about whether he thought the Saudi-led operation, which began on Thursday, would last days or weeks or more, Yaseen replied: "I expect that this operation will not go on for long, I think it will be days." (Reuters)

2:15 P.M. Morocco to join Saudi-led coalition against Houthis in Yemen

Morocco will join the Saudi-led coalition action in Yemen to hold back Shi'ite Houthi militia by providing political, intelligence, logistics and military support, the country's foreign ministry said.

Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab countries launched air strikes throughout Yemen on Thursday to check the Houthi rebels, which are allied to Iran, and have taken over much of Yemen in a bid to oust President Adb-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Morocco's foreign ministry said its support was intended to "defend legitimacy" and included "making the Royal Armed Forces stationed in the United Arab Emirates available to the coalition", but it did not confirm reports on Gulf broadcaster Arabiya that it had sent jets.

Morocco has had F-16 warplanes stationed in the United Arab Emirates since it began taking part in coalition air strikes on Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria.(Reuters)

12:15 P.M. Saudia Arabia resumes flights from its southern airports

Saudi Arabia said on Friday it had gradually resumed flights at its southern airports one day after suspending all traffic as it launched air strikes against Houthi fighters in Yemen.

International and domestic flights to and from five airports in the south including Jizan and Wadi al-Dawaser had resumed at dawn on Friday, the official Saudi press agency said quoting a statement by the General Authority of Civil Aviation.

Saudi had suspended international and domestic flights at seven airports in its south on Thursday after Riyadh and allied Gulf governments launched air strikes against Houthi fighters in Yemen. (Reuters)

10:30 A.M. Saudi coalition warplanes strike presidential compound in Yemen

Warplanes struck near the presidential compound in the Houthi-controlled Yemeni capital of Sanaa around dawn on Friday, residents reported.

The attacks, by a Saudi-led coalition seeking to end the political dominance of Shi'ite Muslim Houthis in the Arabian peninsula country, also struck near a military installation that houses missiles, they said.

Earlier air strikes south of Sanaa in the early hours of Friday appeared to target military installations affiliated with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, a powerful Houthi ally. (Reuters)

4:45 A.M. U.S. drops graphic anti-ISIS leaflets over Syria's Raqqa

he United States has dropped tens of thousands of graphic leaflets southwest of the Syrian city of Raqqa aimed at discouraging Islamic State recruitment, officials said on Thursday.

The grisly, cartoon-style leaflets show recruits lining up to be shoved into a meatgrinder and is part of what the Pentagon formally calls "Military Information Support Operations," or MISO, meant to influence thinking on the battlefield.

The Pentagon said a U.S. Air Force F-15 warplane dropped about 60,000 of the leaflets on March 16.

"The message of this leaflet is that if you allow yourself to be recruited by Daesch (Islamic State), you will find yourself in a meat grinder," said Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren. "It's not beneficial to your health."

The U.S. military has long employed such campaigns in wartime but Warren said this was first of its kind in Syria he was aware of since the United States began bombings in the country last September. (Reuters)

1:55 A.M. Gulf states ask UN Security Council for arms embargo on Yemen's Shi'ite rebels

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies presented powerful members of the UN Security Council with suggested elements for a resolution that would impose an arms embargo on the Shiite rebels who have thrown Yemen into turmoil and caused its Western-backed president to flee.

Diplomats said after a meeting Thursday evening with ambassadors from the United States, Britain and France that members of the Gulf Coordination Council want the resolution to be militarily enforceable under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.

The GCC members also presented the Security Council president with a letter explaining that their airstrikes targeting military installations held by the Houthi rebels are in response to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi's request this week for immediate aid as the rebels closed in.

The current president of the Security Council, French Ambassador Francois Delattre, did not comment on his way out of the meeting. Another permanent council member, Russia, met with the Gulf members earlier Thursday. (AP)

12:10 A.M. UN more than doubles its count of besieged in Syria to 440,000

The United Nations has more than doubled its estimate of Syrians who are living in besieged areas — and risk death by starvation, dehydration and the lack of medical care — to roughly 440,000.

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos announced the new number Thursday while briefing the Security Council on what she called the "breathtaking levels of savagery" that continue as Syria's civil war enters its fifth year.

The Syrian American Medical Society this month released a report arguing that the U.N.'s estimate of 212,000 people cut off from the outside world was far too low and that the U.N. was inadvertently underplaying the crisis. (AP)

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