Saudi airstrikes on Yemen
Saudi-led airstrikes target Yemeni arms depots in a bid to defeat Houthi rebels Reuters

More than 100 United Nations staff and 80 foreign diplomats have been evacuated from Yemen as Saudi-led airstrikes target Shia rebels in the split country.

The conflict, which has a religious dimension, is being described as a proxy war between Sunni Arab countries and Shi'ite Iran.

The coalition headed up by the Saudi Arabia comprises of more than 10 countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan and Sudan.

According to health officials, at least 54 people have reportedly been killed and 187 injured in the Yemin city of Aden alone, as the conflict intensifies following three days of fighting.

Fear of Iran

The coalition's offensive is an attempt to reinstate President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi – who was ousted in September by Shi'ite Houthis – to avoid a pro-Iran regime forming at their doors.

Speaking at a regional summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Hadi denounced the Houthi rebels, calling them "stooges of Iran", and voiced his support for the air campaign.

According to witnesses, the strikes have predominantly targeted arms depots and military facilities outside the Yemen's capital, Sanaa.

"I call for this operation to continue until this gang surrenders and withdraws from all locations it has occupied in every province," Hadi said. "I say to Iran's puppet and whoever is with him, you are the one who destroyed Yemen with your political immaturity," he said.

Hadi will not return to Yemen until "the situation settles".

A 'dangerous escalation'

Experts have warned that the Saudi intervention is a risky move.

"Yes, the Houthis are Shia who receive some degree of backing from Iran," said Kenneth Pollack, Senior Fellow at the Centre for Middle East Policy.

"But this is a very dangerous escalation that is unlikely to improve the situation in Yemen and risks the stability of Saudi Arabia over the medium to long term. Moreover, the Iranian role has been greatly exaggerated in what is first and foremost a Yemeni civil war," he said.

Addressing the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, Saudi King Salman said the intervention will persist until security is brought to Yemen.