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Coalition gives Houthi stronghold ultimatum

The Saudi-led coalition urged Yemeni civilians to evacuate the Houthi stronghold region of Saada as it intensifies its strikes

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The Saudi-led coalition carrying out airstrikes against Houthi militia in Yemen gave the residents of the rebel stronghold of Saada along the kingdom's border an ultimatum to leave the region by nightfall on Friday.

The escalation comes in response to recent cross border attacks by Houthis, targeting Saudi cities near the Saudi-Yemen frontier.

The coalition has declared Saada a war zone and said its entire territory would from now on be considered a "military target," urging all civilians to leave by 7 p.m. local time on Friday.

It also distributed flyers to civilians in Saada asking them to leave, with Al Arabiya News Channel reporting that there were large number of Yemenis who left Saada in the early hours of the morning.

The coalition also said that the main thoroughfares will be open until sunset for civilians to evacuate Saada, the Houthi movement’s birthplace.

Also on Friday, the coalition has also intensified its strikes against command posts of the Yemeni militia.

The coalition on Thursday night targeted Saada after a ministry of defense spokesman warned that the Yemeni militia group has “crossed the red line” and that they will be dealt with differently.

Yemeni security officials reported multiple airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition on Saada as well as the Red Sea port town of Hodeida, west of the capital. They said there was heavy air activity over Aden late Thursday but no airstrikes.

In Saudi Arabia, Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman, was meeting Thursday evening with armed forces commanders as a military spokesman vowed a “harsh response” to the death of at least five Saudi civilians in cross-border shelling this week that Riyadh blamed on the Houthis.

“The formula has changed after Saudi towns and civilians (were hit), and those who planned and executed this aggression will pay a price,” Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri said. “The Houthi militias have crossed red lines and they will be dealt with differently now.”

Meanwhile, Saudi-owned broadcasters reported warnings by the Saudi military on Thursday to Yemenis living in Saada to keep away from military facilities and the headquarters of what the Houthis.

Houthi-linked al-Masirah TV also showed on Thursday fighters in a key district of Aden, and reported that the presidential palace was in their hands.

Targeting Saada, also comes after air raids to suppress further Houthi shelling struck the city again, near Yemen’s Saudi border, and the small port of Maidi on Wednesday.

Villagers from Yemen’s northern Hajah province say many residents have left their homes because of the Saudi bombardment and are seeking refuge in other areas where they lack food.

Hours before the continued targeting of Saada, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir proposed a five-day ceasefire to allow aid into Yemen but said the Houthis would have to abide by it.

(With agencies)