By Mohamed Ghobari
SANAA (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday it would continue its offensive against Yemeni rebels unless they retreated well away from its borders, after insurgents said they had seized more territory near the world’s largest oil exporter.
Saudi Arabia is getting increasingly drawn into a conflict to its south between the Yemeni government and Shi’ite Muslim rebels, which Riyadh fears could weaken the kingdom’s stability.
“We will not stop the air strikes until they retreat tens of kilometers away from the Saudi border,” said Prince Khaled bin Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz, assistant minister for defense and aviation, speaking on Al Arabiya television.
Prince Khaled also said the kingdom had fully secured its border against rebel incursions.
Yemeni rebels said on Tuesday they had taken full control of the Qatabar directorate, which lies in the mountainous northern province of Saada where most recent fighting has taken place, and borders Saudi Arabia.
On Sunday Saudi Arabia said it had regained control of Jabal Dukhan, which was seized by rebels last week in a cross-border incursion, after the kingdom launched air strikes on rebels in northern Yemen.
Riyadh is becoming increasingly anxious about instability in Yemen, which is facing the Shi’ite insurgency in the north, separatist sentiment in the south and a growing threat from resurgent al Qaeda fighters.
On their website, the rebels said Saudi fighter planes continued to bomb Yemeni villages on Tuesday, killing two women and wounding a child.
The 1,500 km (930 mile) frontier between Yemen and Saudi Arabia is a security worry for the kingdom, which is building a high-tech border fence to prevent infiltration.
In the past few weeks the Shi’ite rebels have accused Saudi Arabia of allowing Yemeni forces to use its territory as a base to launch attacks against them and threatened to respond.
The rebels first took up arms against President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s government in 2004, citing political, economic and religious marginalization by the Saudi- and Western-backed administration. The conflict intensified in August when Yemen’s army launched Operation Scorched Earth.
Aid groups, which have been given limited access to the northern provinces, say up to 150,000 people have fled their homes since 2004.