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Arab air strikes cripple Yemen’s main airport

47Arab coalition warplanes bombed the runway at Yemen’s main international airport and struck a renegade troop base in the capital in a fourth night of Saudi-led raids against Iranian-backed rebels. The strikes on the country’s main air gateway came just hours after UN workers were evacuated following deadly fighting that has sent tensions between Tehran and other Middle East powers soaring. Yemen’s President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi has urged his Arab allies to keep up the bombing raids until the Huthi Shiite rebels surrender, branding them Iran’s ‘puppet’. The Huthis and allied rebel military units have overrun much of the country and prompted Hadi to flee what had been his last remaining refuge in the main southern city Aden for Saudi Arabia. Witnesses on Sunday reported hearing three loud explosions and seeing a large fire when Sanaa International Airport was bombed at around midnight. ‘This was the first time they hit the runway’ since the campaign began, an aviation source said. ‘The airport is completely out of service.’ More than 200 staff from the UN, foreign embassies and other organisations had been flown out from the airport on Saturday. Pakistan said it was preparing to evacuate its citizens and diplomatic staff from Hudaida in western Yemen. Overnight air strikes hit the headquarters of the rebel republican guard at Al-Subaha base in Sanaa, killing 15 soldiers, a military official said. The Huthis are backed by army units loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down in 2012 after a year-long popular uprising and is accused of supporting the rebels. In a televised speech Saturday, Saleh urged the Arab League to help end the crisis ‘peacefully’, saying the ‘problem will not be solved with strikes’. The 22-member League was holding a second day of top-level talks Sunday in Egypt where leaders were expected to approve the creation of a joint military force. The Saudi-led strikes also targeted an airbase in rebel-held Hudaida, witnesses said. Other raids targeted a base of the First Artillery Brigade in Saada, the northern stronghold of the Huthis. The Sunni Arab coalition is said to have been spurred into action by the prospect of an Iranian-backed regime seizing power in impoverished Yemen, wedged on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. ‘AFP/BBC.