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Saudis evacuate diplomats from Yemen as Houthis gain ground

Saudi Arabia's military has begun evacuating diplomats from Yemen's southern port of Aden. The move comes as Houthi rebels continued to advance on the city despite Saudi-led airstrikes.

The news of the evacuation effort was first reported by Saudi Arabia's state broadcaster on Saturday.

"The Saudi Royal Navy implemented an operation called 'Hurricane' to evacuate dozens of diplomats, including Saudis, from Aden," read a news ticker on the television news station.

This came as Shiite Muslim Houthi fighters continued to gain ground in the south and east of Yemen. The Reuters news agency cited local residents who said that the rebels had established their first foothold on the country's Gulf of Aden coast on Friday, seizing the port of Shaqra, around 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Aden.

This came despite a second day of

Saudi-led airstrikes against the Houthi forces

in several parts of the country, including the capital, Sanaa, which the rebels control, as well as their northern stronghold of Saada.

Speaking to reporters in Riyadh on Friday, a spokesman for the Saudi-led military operation, Brigadier-General Ahmed Asseri expressed the determination of the Saudi government to prevent the Houthi's from overthrowing Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

"The operation will continue as long as there is a need for it to continue," Asseri said.

Last month, Hadi took refuge in his powerbase of Aden, after having had fled Sanaa, where the rebels had been holding him under house arrest since they gained control of the capital in January. On Thursday, with Aden also coming under threat,

Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia

. He has since

arrived in Sharm el-Sheikh for this weekend's Arab League summit

, which is to focus on the Yemen conflict.

US support

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama spoke by telephone with Saudi King Salman on Friday, offering US support for their "collective goal" of restoring stability to Yemen.

"The president reaffirmed the strong friendship between the United States and Saudi Arabia and emphasized the United States' support for the action taken by Saudi Arabia, Gulf Cooperation Council members, and others in response to President Hadi's request and in support of the legitimate government of Yemen," US National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said.

The Saudi Press Agency reported that the king had thanked the president for the assistance of the US military in rescuing two Saudi pilots who were forced to eject from their aircraft over the Red Sea on Thursday due to what officials described as a "technical fault."

Fury from Tehran

Meanwhile, Shiite Iran, which is widely understood to be backing the Houthi rebels, has expressed anger over the Saudi-led air campaign.

"Any military action against an independent country is wrong and will only result in a deepening crisis and more deaths among innocents," said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

pfd/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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