Operation 'Decisive Storm' in Yemen ends, new phase underway - Saudi-led forces

Saudi army are seen deployed along the Saudi border with Yemen April 21, 2015. (Reuters)
The Saudi-led military coalition has completed operation 'Decisive Storm' against Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, a statement by Saudi military command cited by local media, says.

All goals set by Decisive Storm have been achieved. These included the destruction of ballistic missiles the Houthis had taken control of. The decision to end the offensive comes following a request by the Yemeni government, according to the Saudi-led coalition spokesman.

The anti-Houthi campaign is now switching into a new phase codenamed 'Restoring Hope', the statement said, as cited by Saudi-owned Arabiya TV. The Saudi Defense Ministry says it is going to focus on anti-terrorism, security and finding a political solution to the crisis.

READ MORE:US beefing up naval presence off Yemen amid rising regional tensions

This does not, however, mean a ceasefire will be declared.

"The coalition will continue to prevent the movement of Houthi militias from moving or undertaking any operations inside Yemen," Saudi spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. He added that the bombing operation will resume if it is deemed necessary.

But reports from Yemen said moments before the supposed end of the operation, Saudi-led coalition forces were still bombing military targets in Sanaa and Aden. Footage from Sanaa and reports from Aden also showed that the coalition bombing and shelling continued overnight.

Meanwhile, the ousted Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi has issued a video address, in which he thanked the coalition for “supporting legitimacy.”

Hadi also claimed that the nation has “no other choice than to fight rebels from [the] Ansar Allah [movement] that staged a coup in the country,” and vowed to return to Yemen and “rebuild” it. The televised speech was aired from Riyadh, where Hadi is currently in exile.

The White House has welcomed the Saudi announcement, saying that it continues to “support the resumption of a UN-facilitated political process and the facilitation of humanitarian assistance.”

Tehran also welcomed the halting of the bombing campaign, with the Iranian Foreign Ministry saying the conflict “cannot be resolved by force” and that the “ceasefire definitely represents a step forward, which will stop the killing of innocent and defenseless civilians,” TASS reported.

Houthi rebels, meanwhile, shrugged off Saudi Arabia’s claims the bombing campaign has been a success. A senior Houthi Revolutionary Committee member quoted by the agency claims halting the operation represents “a failure of the aggression they launched.” The Houthi official says the rebels have no responsibilities for maintaining the ceasefire.

The announcement about the operation wrapping up comes hours after Saudi Arabia's King Salman ordered the country's National Guard to reinforce the border with Yemen.

Before that, only the navy, air and ground forces were involved in the operation, the latter's involvement limited to controlling the border. The National Guard is widely seen as the best equipped force at Saudi Arabia's disposal and answers to its own ministry separate from the Ministry of Defense.

Saudi Arabia and its allies have been engaged in a campaign of airstrikes and a naval blockade of Yemen, targeting anti-government Houthi rebels.

The Houthis had seized control of the capital Sanaa, driving Yemen's Hadi into hiding in Saudi Arabia, and advanced on the major port city of Aden.

Washington revealed on Monday it would be sending two more warships into waters off Yemen, to bolster its force there. The Pentagon said the vessels are conducting routine "maritime security operations". The US is assisting Saudi Arabia, but not taking part in the anti-Houthi campaign directly.

At least 944 people have been killed and 3,487 injured during the month-long conflict in Yemen, World Health Organization reported Tuesday.

Iran's Foreign Ministry welcomed a halt to the airstrikes.

"We said the crisis in Yemen had no military solution, and a halt to killing innocent and defenseless people is absolutely a step forward," said Marzieh Afkham, a spokeswoman for the ministry, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.