A day after claiming to be on board with the Obama administration’s push for a cease-fire in Yemen, Saudi Arabia intensified its airstrikes Friday against Iran-backed rebels in the nation.
The Saudi Press Agency said strikes were being ramped up against a Houthi rebel stronghold in Yemen’s northern province of Saada in response to cross-border attacks by the rebels targeting Saudi cities.
The development throws into question plans that Saudi and U.S. officials announced Thursday to temporarily halt the Saudi-led but U.S.-backed military campaign against the Houthis so humanitarian aid can reach millions of civilians caught up in the month-old war that has killed more than 1,400 people.
On Thursday, Secretary of State John F. Kerry appeared in Riyadh beside Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, who said his nation was prepared to begin a five-day, renewable cease-fire as long as the Houthis and their supporters also agreed to stop fighting.
Saudi Arabia has long been a source of humanitarian aid to neighboring Yemen and Mr. al-Jubeir said a halt in airstrikes would give Riyadh a chance to provide $274 million in new assistance — mainly through airdrops of food and health-related supplies to the Yemeni people.
But the willingness of the Houthi rebels to go along with the cease-fire remains to be seen. Hamed al-Bokheiti, a spokesman for the Houthi movement in the capital of Sanaa, was dismissive of the news of the cease-fire on Thursday.
“What cease-fire are we talking about? Airstrikes are continuing unabated,” he told The Associated Press by telephone.
On Friday, the AP cited the Saudi Press Agency as saying Riyadh’s latest airstrikes had destroyed a land-mine factory, a telecommunications complex and command centers controlled by the Iran-backed rebels in northern Yemen.
U.S. officials say the Houthis, who overran the Yemeni capital in recent months, are being armed and supported by Iran. Analysts describe the war in Yemen as a stand-off between Sunni Arab Saudi Arabia and Iran, the Middle East’s main Shiite Muslim powerhouse.