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Yemen's Houthi leader vows to never give in to Saudi 'aggression'

The leader of Yemen's Houthi militia has accused Saudi Arabia of plotting an invasion. The UN says thousands of people have been displaced since a Saudi-led campaign launched strikes against the rebels three weeks ago.

Shiite rebel leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi on Sunday said he would never surrender to the Saudi-led bombing campaign aimed at preventing his militants expanding their control.

Saudi Arabia's goal is "the invasion of this country, its occupation and placing this country again under its feet and hegemony," al-Houthi said in a televised speech.

"Our Yemeni people will never give in - it will resist in the face of the savage aggression," he added, vowing to use "all means and options" available.

The Shiite Houthi rebels, who are from Yemen's north, seized the capital Sanaa in September. Since then they've continued to advance south towards the strategic port of Aden, forcing President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia last month.

At Hadi's request, Saudi Arabia - together with eight other predominantly Sunni nations - launched airstrikes against the Iranian-allied Houthis on March 26. If Aden falls to the rebels it would be a major blow to Hadi supporters, and to the Saudi coalition which doesn't want to see rival Tehran expand its influence in the Arabian Peninsula.

Division in the ranks

In Sunday's speech, al-Houthi said Saudi Arabia "has no right to interfere" in Yemen, and insisted that

Iran had "no influence"

in the impoverished Middle Eastern nation.

"The political problem is an internal affair and it is up to us to define our future," he said.

Al-Houthi also used his address to slam a UN Security Council resolution issued last week, which imposed sanctions on the rebels and demanded all sides return to peace talks. However, the political party of ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh - whose supporters within Yemen's military are important allies for the Houthis - appeared to have a different view, saying it would "respond positively" to the resolution.

In another blow to the Houthis, the military commander of a vast southern province bordering Saudi Arabia on Sunday pledged support for President Hadi.

"The officers, non-commissioned officers and the soldiers of the First Military Region based in Hadramawt back President Hadi, who represents constitutional legitimacy," General Abdelrahman Al-Halili said in a statement.

Humanitarian disaster

Meanwhile, at least 60 people were

killed in clashes

between pro-Hadi forces and the Shiite rebels over the weekend. On Sunday there were fierce battles in the city of Taez and the eastern oil-rich province of Mareb. Reports on Sunday also said pro-government troops had managed to drive the rebels from parts of Aden.

According to the UN agency for refugees, more than 150,000 people have been displaced in Yemen since the start of the Saudi-led air campaign, while over 300,000 have fled their homes since the beginning of the conflict.

The Saudi-led coalition has imposed restrictions on airspace and ports, preventing humanitarian supplies from making it into the country.

The UN

issued an urgent appeal

last week for $274 million (253 million euros) in emergency humanitarian assistance to protect some 7.5 million people in need of medical supplies, safe drinking water, food and shelter. The UN and Saudi Arabia on Saturday agreed to fund the entire appeal.

nm/bk (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

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