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Shohdi Alsofi, Associated Press
In this photo taken on Friday, April 17, 2015, fire and smoke rises after a Saudi-led airstrike on Sanaa, Yemen. Iran's foreign minister urged U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday to try to end "the senseless aerial attacks" in Yemen by a Saudi-led coalition and establish a cease-fire.

SANAA, Yemen — Militiamen loyal to Yemen's exiled president besieged an air base once crucial to the U.S. drone program targeting al-Qaida militants in the country, trying to dislodge the Shiite rebels holding the complex, a spokesman said.

Qa'ed Nasser, a spokesman for the pro-Hadi militia, said his fighters launched several attacks on the Al-Annad air base amid airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition targeting the rebels, known as Houthis. He said that the Houthis have been forced to abandon parts of the base due to the attacks.

Houthi rebels declined to comment on the fighting at the base, only 60 kilometers (35 miles) away from Aden, the port city where President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi had established a temporary capital before fleeing the country.

The base was crucial in the U.S. drone campaign against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which America considers to be the most dangerous branch of the terror group. U.S. operations against the militants have been scaled back dramatically amid the chaos in Yemen.

U.S. officials have said CIA drone strikes will continue in the country, though there will be fewer of them. The agency's ability to collect intelligence on the ground in Yemen, while not completely gone, is also much diminished.

About 100 U.S. military advisers based at Al-Annad withdrew last month due to deteriorating security conditions.

Fighting between the rebels and forces loyal to Hadi intensified in March, with the Saudi-led coalition of majority Sunni countries in the region launching the airstrikes on March 26.

Fighting continued around the country on Saturday, with coalition airstrikes targeting positions of Houthis and their allies in several provinces, including Aden, Sanaa, Taiz, Marib, Saada, Shabwa and Lahj, security officials said.

Taiz saw particularly heavy bombardment a day earlier, including one strike on the Republican Palace that killed 19 pro-Houthi gunmen, they added, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters. They said fighting there had left more than 85 dead over the past 24 hours.