Shiite rebels capture Yemen city

Ahmed Al-Haj
Associated Press

Sanaa, Yemen – — Shiite rebels and allied troops overran the capital of an oil-rich Yemeni province in a heavily Sunni area on Thursday, making significant territorial gains despite Saudi-led airstrikes, now entering their third week.

Iran, which is trying to garner international support to stop the bombing, stepped up its condemnation, with the supreme leader calling the air campaign “genocide.”

The rebel fighters, known as Houthis, along with military units loyal to former autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh, overran Ataq, the capital of oil-rich Shabwa province, after days of airstrikes and clashes with local Sunni tribes.

The Saudi-led coalition has imposed an air and sea blockade on Yemen and targeted the rebels and their allies to try to create a safe corridor that would allow the return of Yemen’s internationally recognized president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled the country last month.

The conflict pits the Saudi-led Sunni Gulf Arab coalition against Shiite rival Iran, which supports the Houthis and has provided humanitarian aid, though both Iran and the rebels deny it has armed them.

The growing regional involvement risks transforming what until now has been a complex power struggle into a full-blown sectarian conflict like those raging in Syria and Iraq.

In a speech in Tehran, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged a cease-fire in Yemen to allow for broad-based talks on resolving the crisis.

“To the countries in the region, I say, let’s adopt the spirit of brotherhood. Let’s respect each other and other nations,” Rouhani said. “Do not kill innocent children. Let’s think about an end to the war, about cease-fire and humanitarian assistance ...”