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Airstrikes on Houthi insurgents kill scores near Saudi border

Saudi-led airstrikes hit Houthi and civilian targets in northern Yemen

Scores of people were reported killed by overnight Saudi-led airstrikes in northern Yemen targeting Houthi rebel strongholds near the border with Saudi Arabia, pro-Houthi authorities and area residents said Wednesday.

There was no independent confirmation of the death toll from the strikes, which hit military and civilian targets in northern Saada and Hajja provinces, according to Miserah TV, a station loyal to the Houthi rebel movement. More than 30 missiles hit the region, the station said.

Some local accounts put the death toll at more than 100, but Reuters news service cited Houthi sources saying 43 people were killed and at least 100 wounded.

The attacks came after the Houthis, who control large stretches of Yemen, fired mortars and rockets at a Saudi border town Tuesday, reportedly killing at least three people. Saudi authorities said the shells struck schools and a hospital near the city of Najran.

The Houthi attack Tuesday was the first such strike on a major Saudi town along the border, authorities said. It caused alarm in Saudi Arabia and forced the closure of schools and a partial suspension of commercial flights.

In a statement after the reported Houthi cross-border attack, Gen. Ahmed Hasan Asiri, an advisor in the Saudi Defense Ministry, said that his nation would “employ any measure appropriate to guarantee the safety and security of its borders.”

The Saudis and their allies have been conducting airstrikes in Yemen since March 26 in a bid to pave the way for the return of exiled President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, who fled the capital and then the country after the Houthis seized power in Sana and placed him under house arrest.

Saudi Arabia backs Hadi and views the Houthis as a proxy of Iran, Riyadh’s regional rival, in the civil war raging here in the Arab world’s poorest nation. The Houthi movement, based in northern Yemen, is allied with Iran but denies operating on its behalf.

Allied with the Houthis are forces loyal to former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was ousted from power in 2012.

Aid agencies say more than 1,000 people have been killed in the conflict since March. The United Nations has called for a humanitarian pause in fighting to allow for aid to enter the impoverished and war battered nation.

Meanwhile, a Houthi spokesman said the group’s militia had made a key thrust in the embattled southern city of Aden, fighting their way into the historic Tawahi district. The reported advance would bolster Houthi gains on the southern port city, a key battle ground. Aden is Hadi’s hometown and hosts a separatist movement that seeks independence from Yemen.

Fierce clashes were reported Wednesday in Aden. More than 40 people attempting to flee the city were reported killed when their boat was struck by shells.

Al-Alayaa is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell in Istanbul, Turkey, contributed to this report.

Twitter: @mcdneville

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