Saudi strikes to continue until Yemen rebels ejected

RIYADH, Nov 6 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia said on Friday its offensive against Yemeni rebels would continue until it ended any presence by the group on its territory after gunmen infiltrated into the kingdom and attacked border guards.

A Saudi government adviser said on Thursday that Riyadh had launched heavy air strikes on rebels in northern Yemen after the Shi'ite insurgents' cross-border raid this week.

But, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said on Friday the strikes were "focused on infiltrators in Jabal Dukhan and other targets within the range of operations within Saudi territory".

Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, has become increasingly anxious about instability in Yemen, which is facing a Shi'ite insurgency in the north, separatist sentiment in the south and a growing threat from resurgent al Qaeda fighters.

"The entry of the gunmen to Saudi territory, the aggression against border patrols ... and (their) presence on Saudi soil is a violation of sovereignty that gives the kingdom every right to take all measures to end this illegitimate presence," SPA reported, citing an official source.

"The operations will continue until all sites within Saudi territory are cleansed of any hostile element."

Riyadh will take unspecified measures to prevent any future incursion by the Yemeni rebels, the source said, adding that armed forces units have been deployed to back border guards.

On Thursday, Saudi government officials said the air force had bombed Yemeni rebels who had seized a border area inside the kingdom, which they said had been recaptured. The officials said at least 40 rebels had been killed in the fighting.

Yemen's government -- which has long dismissed accusations by rebels that it has colluded with Riyadh to combat them -- has denied that Saudi planes had struck across the border.

Al Jazeera television quoted a rebel spokesman as saying the Saudi air force had raided six locations inside Yemen.

Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday a security officer was killed and 11 were wounded in an attack by gunmen who had crossed the border from Yemen -- the first such reported incursion since the long-running Houthi revolt flared up again in August.

The Shi'ite rebels, known as Houthis after the family of their leader, have previously accused Saudi Arabia of backing Yemen's armed forces in the conflict. Sanaa had denied this.

The 1,500 km (930 miles) border with Yemen is a security worry for Riyadh, which is building a high-tech border fence to prevent infiltration.

U.S.-allied Arab countries such as mainly Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Egypt fear Shi'ite power Iran could gain influence in Yemen through the Houthis. The rebels deny getting any help from Tehran, which has offered to mediate in the conflict.

Yemen's army launched Operation Scorched Earth in August to crush the rebellion. Aid groups say around 150,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, which first broke out in 2004.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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