Yemen president fled by sea as Houthi rebels advance on Aden city

SANAA - Yemen President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi fled the country by sea on Wednesday as Houthi rebels advanced to take the southern port city of Aden, while Saudi Arabia responded with airstrikes against them.

Allies loyal to the Houthis - the Shiite rebels who have overtaken the capital Sanaa and a number of other cities - had captured Aden's international airport, USA Today quoted Yemen security officials as saying.

Associated Press (AP), quoting officials, reported that the Yemeni president fled Aden by sea for an undisclosed location on Wednesday.

The takeover of the city, which is the nation's economic hub, would mark the collapse of what is left of Hadi's grip on power, AP reported. The Yemeni leader escaped to the port city last month after being held under house arrest by the Houthis in Sanaa.

Meantime, Saudi Arabia carried out air strikes against the rebels in Yemen on Wednesday, launching an operation by a regional coalition to save the government, the kingdom's ambassador to the United States said.

Adel al-Jubeir said for the moment, the action was confined to air strikes on various targets around Yemen, but other military assets were being mobilised and the coalition "would do whatever it takes," according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

"The operation is to defend and support the legitimate government of Yemen and prevent the radical Houthi movement from taking over the country," al-Jubeir told reporters in Washington, stressing that the United States had been kept in the loop.

Al-Jubeir said the coalition involved the countries of an existing alliance, the Gulf Cooperation Council, but that it had been joined by "outside countries."

"We have a coalition of over 10 countries that will participate in these operations to prevent Yemen from falling at the hands of the Houthis," he said.

Yemen has been gripped by growing turmoil since Houthi rebels launched a power takeover in the Yemeni capital Sanaa in February and are now fighting in the port city of Aden.