Yemen's Houthi rebels launch barrage of strikes on Saudi sites

Saudi-led military coalition says sites belonging to oil giant Aramco hit but no casualties

A damaged car at an Aramco terminal in the southern border town of Jizan, Saudi Arabia on Sunday. SPA
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Yemen’s Houthi rebels launched one of their most intense barrages of drone and missile strikes on Saudi Arabia’s critical energy centres on Sunday, sparking a fire at one and temporarily cutting oil production at another. No casualties were reported.

It marked a serious escalation of attacks by the Iran-backed rebels on the kingdom as the war in Yemen moves into its eighth year and peace talks stall.

The Saudi-led military coalition revealed attacks on an Aramco liquified gas plant in the Red Sea port of Yanbu, an oil storage plant in Jeddah, a desalination complex in Al Shuqaiq on the Red Sea coast and an Aramco oil installation in the southern border town of Jizan, among others.

The coalition said it also destroyed a remotely piloted boat packed with explosives sent by the Houthis in the busy southern Red Sea.

The extent of damage remained unclear, and the Energy Ministry said only the Yanbu refinery had a temporary drop in output.

A joint venture between Aramco and China, the $10 billion Yanbu Aramco Sinopec Refining Company on the Red Sea produces 400,000 barrels of oil a day.

The Saudi Press Agency issued photographs of fire engines dousing flames with water and rubble from the shrapnel that crashed through ceilings and damaged apartment walls.

Another aerial attack later in the day struck a fuel tank at an Aramco distribution station in the port city of Jeddah and ignited a fire.

Later at night, the Saudi military coalition said it destroyed more missiles over Jeddah. Residents posted footage on social media showing streaks of light from missile defences piercing the dark sky.

The wave of strikes revealed the expanding reach and precision of the rebels.

Strikes in 2019 on Aramco oil centres knocked out half of the kingdom’s oil production and threatened to start a regional crisis in an attack that the US and Riyadh said came from Iran.

The attacks on Sunday came as Saudi Arabia’s state-backed Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, announced its profits surged 124 per cent in 2021 to $110 billion, a jump fuelled by renewed anxiety about global supply shortages and soaring oil prices.

Aramco released its annual earnings after weeks of intense volatility in energy markets triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The international oil benchmark Brent crude rose to more than $107 on Sunday after nearly hitting a peak of $140 this month.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Secretary-General Hissein Brahim Taha condemned the ongoing Houthi attacks against civilian infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, calling them "criminal acts."

It is time to bring this war to a close, but that can only happen if the Houthis agree to co-operate with the United Nations
Jake Sullivan, US National Security Adviser

The escalation followed diplomacy over the weekend in Oman’s capital of Muscat.

The UN special envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, met the chief Houthi negotiator and Omani officials to discuss “a possible truce during the holy month of Ramadan” in early April, the UN mission said.

The White House condemned the attacks, blaming Iran for supplying the Houthis with missile and drone parts, as well as training and expertise.

“It is time to bring this war to a close, but that can only happen if the Houthis agree to co-operate with the United Nations,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said. “The United States stands fully behind those efforts.”

The barrage comes days after the Gulf Co-operation Council invited Yemen’s warring sides for peace talks in Riyadh.

The offer was dismissed by the Houthis, who demanded that negotiations take place in a “neutral” country.

Negotiations have floundered since the Houthis have tried to capture oil-rich Marib, one of the last remaining strongholds of the Saudi-backed Yemeni government in the country’s north.

Aramco shares were up over 3 per cent on Sunday to trade around 43.20 riyals ($11.50) a share on Riyadh’s Tadawul stock exchange.

Updated: March 21, 2022, 6:01 AM