Hasan Jamali / AP

Saudi-led coalition ends military operation in Yemen

Officials say military goals were achieved in airstrikes on Yemen; new mission to protect civilians has begun

The Saudi-led coalition that has been pounding Houthi rebels in Yemen for almost a month says its military operation "Decisive Storm" has ended and on Wednesday began a new campaign aimed at protecting civilians and preventing Houthi fighters from operating has begun.

Brigadier-General Ahmed al-Asiri, the coalition's spokesperson, said on Tuesday that the coalition had achieved its military goals in Yemen and a new operation, called "Renewal of Hope," would aim to protect civilians and combat "terrorism."

"The air strikes, with participation of the Saudi brave hawks with brothers in the coalition countries, have successfully managed to thwart the threat on the security of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries," Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Defense said in the statement.

The alliance had achieved its military goals in Yemen through the campaign and the new mission, according to the Saudi statement said, will focus on security at home and counterterrorism, aid and a political solution in Yemen.

The new operation started at midnight, and early on Wednesday morning, Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi gave a televised address from Riyadh, where he thanked the coalition partners for their support.

"I extend on my behalf and on behalf of the Yemeni people sincere thanks and appreciation for the Arab and Muslim brothers and our partners in the coalition for supporting legitimacy," he said.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Saudi Ministry of Defense said that the regional coalition had destroyed all heavy weapons and ballistic missiles of the Houthi rebels, Saudi news channel Al-Ekhbariya reported. The ministry added that the operation imposed restrictions over Yemen's airspace to prevent any possible attacks.

Still, Saudi military spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri said the coalition would continue to target movements by the rebels.

"The coalition will continue to prevent the Houthi militias from moving or undertaking any operations inside Yemen," Asseri told reporters in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

"Operation Restore Hope has begun and it represents a combination of political, diplomatic and military action," Asseri said.

Following Saudi Arabia's announcement that it was shifting phases, pro-Houthi Almasirah television said the group's supporters would stage a mass protest in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, on Wednesday to denounce the kingdom's aggression.

Saudi Arabia and allied countries began launching airstrikes on March 26, hoping to push back the rebels, who seized Sanaa in September and overtook large swathes of the country with the help of security forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Most of Yemen's military is loyal to Saleh, whose forces are fighting alongside Houthi rebels in battles stretching across the country's south and east.

While not taking direct military action, the U.S. has said it is coordinating military and intelligence support with Saudi Arabia. 

To push back against the Houthis, Saudi-led warplanes targeted military bases and anti-aircraft positions located in populated neighborhoods in Sanaa, flattening homes and killing civilians.

The United Nations last week reported over 750 deaths resulting from the conflict. Thousands more have been wounded in the airstrikes.

The leader of the Iranian-allied rebels accused Saudi Arabia on Sunday of plotting to seize Yemen, in a fiery speech suggesting that he was unlikely to compromise despite more than three weeks of airstrikes.

Saudi Arabia's goal is “the invasion of this country, its occupation and placing this country again under its feet and hegemony,” Abdel-Malek al-Houthi said.

“It's the right of our people to resist the aggression and face the aggressor by any means,” he added.

Western governments and many Sunni Arab countries say the Houthis get arms from Iran. Iran and the rebels deny that, though the Islamic Republic has provided political and humanitarian support to the group.

In remarks Tuesday to reporters, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the airstrikes in Yemen were prompted by Saudi Arabia's failures in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, causing what he called a "mental imbalance."

"All the failures have accumulated and caused mental and emotional imbalance for that country," Rouhani said.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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