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Saudi Strikes In Yemen Wrap Up; Operation Renewal Of Hope Begins


Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, has become the flashpoint in a conflict between bigger powers who are fighting for influence in the region.


On one side, Iran. It has voiced support for the rebels who now control Yemen's capital.

GREENE: On the other side, Saudi Arabia. Its military has been bombing those rebels in support of Yemen's beleaguered president. Saudi Arabia did abruptly announce they plan to halt those airstrikes, yet already today there have been more of them. Let's learn more about what all this means from NPR's Leila Fadel, who's in Saudi Arabia near the Yemeni border.


LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Just yesterday, these were the sounds on the Saudi border with Yemen, the Saudi military firing off mortar rounds in front of journalists, targeting what they claim is an Iranian proxy next door, Houthi rebels. But by nightfall, things had changed.


BRIGADIER GENERAL AHMED ASIRI: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: The Saudi military spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri announced in his evening briefing that the airstrikes would stop and a new operation would begin, dubbed renewal of hope. But it doesn't necessarily mean military action is over.


ASIRI: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: Asiri said that the focus now would be humanitarian efforts, but force would be used against Houthi targets if necessary. Though he didn't specify what kind of force, Asiri said that the airstrikes had destroyed the Houthi's heavy weaponry and ballistic missiles. And in a statement, the Saudis say the focus now is to try to resume U.N.-facilitated talks for the political process to move forward. Iran welcomed the decision. The foreign ministry spokeswoman was quoted by an Iranian state news agency as saying, a truce and a halt to the killing of innocent and defenseless human beings is certainly one step forward.

The White House also welcomed the decision. The U.S. was providing support for the military campaign. The Saudi-led bombing campaign of the impoverished nation had generated much criticism. Food in Yemen is running out, electricity is scarce and eight organizations were warning that this is a looming humanitarian crisis. And even Western allies who publicly supported the Saudis privately expressed concern that the military operations had no endgame. Critics say the Saudis seem to be focused on trying to exterminate the Houthis rather than find a political solution.

On Tuesday night, Yemen's president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi gave a television address for the first time since the airstrikes began nearly a month ago. Hadi is exiled in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.


PRESIDENT ABD RABBUH MANSUR HADI: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: He called on the Houthis to get out of the cities and blamed them for Yemen's civil war. Houthis control the capital and have gained more territory, even in the midst of the bombing campaign. The Houthis reject Hadi, who is a largely unpopular figure in Yemen, and the end of the airstrikes could mean the start of a negotiated settlement to end this conflict as street fighting between factions continues. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Najran, Saudi Arabia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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