Saudi Arabia renewed its aerial assault on Shiite rebels in Yemen and vowed to keep using force when needed, even as it backed the resumption of peace talks.
Fighter aircraft from the Saudi-led coalition attacked Houthi rebel militia and troops allied with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh north of Aden, a southern port city, the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television channel reported Thursday.
The Saudi ambassador to the U.S. said the coalition may continue strikes and still doesn’t rule out sending ground troops, though he also said the kingdom hopes that its operation has paved the way for political negotiations.
The Saudis and their mostly Sunni Muslim allies announced an end to Operation Decisive Storm on Tuesday, saying it succeeded in destroying heavy weaponry and missiles held by the rebels. Saudi Arabia says Iran is behind the rise of the Houthis, a claim viewed with skepticism by many Western diplomats.
“The decision to calm matters now entirely rests with them,” Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir said of the rebels. He said Saudi Arabia is providing support to militias fighting the Houthis, without giving details.
Oil prices declined after the Saudi announcement of a halt in bombing, and Brent crude fell 18 cents to $62.55 a barrel in London on Thursday.
The Saudi-led bombing marked an escalation of the civil war in Yemen, a country located among major oilfields and adjacent to key shipping routes. Al-Qaeda has already benefited from a power vacuum in the country to establish a base there.
The Saudis and their allies are in discussions with the United Nations about how to revive talks on a political settlement, with the Saudis preferring to host the negotiations, according to a UN official who asked not to be identified citing the sensitivity of the matter.
If the UN, which brokered previous rounds of talks before the Saudi-led intervention, continues to take the lead when talks resume then it would choose to hold negotiations outside the Middle East, a Security Council diplomat said, also asking not to be identified.
Aid agencies have warned of deteriorating humanitarian conditions. The Ministry of Health reported that major hospitals and facilities would soon be “completely unable to provide humanitarian and emergency services or to perform operations,” according to a World Health Organization spokesman in comments carried on the UN website Tuesday.
The International Organization for Migration also suspended its evacuation of foreign civilians this week, citing growing difficulties in operating flights from Sana’a, the capital, the group said in a statement Tuesday.
The Houthis want a complete end to the airstrikes and the lifting of a naval blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia and its allies before any return to UN-brokered negotiations, spokesman Mohamed Abdulsalam said on Facebook. The rebels have ruled out Saudi Arabia as a venue for talks.
It’s “up to Yemenis” where the negotiations take place, al-Jubeir told reporters at the Saudi embassy in Washington.
The kingdom and its allies have been seeking to restore the government of President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi, who remains in exile in Riyadh. Al-Jubeir said Hadi will return to Yemen at a time of his own choosing, when the security situation permits.