Saudi Arabia: Houthi attacks shot down as Jeddah explosions form black smoke over city

Saudi Arabia’s air defences destroyed at least 16 drones and rockets launched by Yemen's Houthi rebels towards the kingdom on Friday

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Thick smoke rose over the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah on Friday as the kingdom's air defences intercepted waves of Houthi strikes in a major escalation of near-daily attacks.

The National’s reporter at the scene of the explosion at an Aramco depot near the airport in Jeddah said thick, black smoke was billowing across the city.

The Saudi-led coalition said that the Iran-backed Houthi rebels hit two holding tanks at the Aramco terminal in Jeddah. A Houthi spokesman confirmed the group was responsible for the attacks.

A cloud of smoke rises from a burning oil depot in Jeddah, on Friday. AP

Brig Gen Turki Al Malki, coalition spokesman, said the Aramco oil distribution plant was hit at 5.25pm local time, which led to a fire at the site. The fire was brought under control by a civil defence team with no casualties reported.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Energy confirmed that the oil distribution plant in Jeddah as well as Al Mukhtara station in Jazan had been hit by a projectile.

“The kingdom stresses the importance of the international community being aware of the danger of Iran continuing to provide the terrorist Houthi militias with ballistic missile and advanced drone technologies, with which they target oil and gas production sites and their derivatives in the kingdom,” a ministry source said.

The Iran-backed Yemeni rebels fired at least 16 projectiles at civilian infrastructure in the regions of Jeddah, Najran, Jazan and Dhahran Al Janub.

Although the coalition said its forces had shot down the projectiles, the Houthi attacks caused a small fire at an electricity distribution station in the Jazan town of Samtah. There was also flooding around a national water company site in Dhahran Al Janub, after it was hit.

Images released by the Saudi Press Agency also showed some damage to civilian vehicles, residential areas and shops in Dhahran Al Janub.

The coalition, which supports Yemen's internationally recognised government, said six drones were destroyed in the early hours of Friday and three others were intercepted later in the day before the attacks on Jazan and Dhahran Al Janub.

The coalition said it launched air strikes early on Saturday against "sources of threat" in Sanaa, the rebel-held Yemeni capital, and the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah.

"The military operation will continue until its objectives are achieved," the coalition said in a statement quoted by SPA.

The coalition said earlier the Houthis should bear the consequences of their "hostile behaviour".

It said the operation to stop attacks on oil installations and "protect global energy sources" was in its early stages, and asked civilians to stay away from oil sites or terminals in Hodeidah.

Attack before Formula One weekend

The attack on the Aramco terminal in Jeddah took place 19 kilometres from the circuit hosting Formula One’s Saudi Grand Prix.

Formula One says the race will continue "as planned" after a meeting with drivers and team bosses.

"We have received total assurance that the country’s safety is first," Formula One chief executive Stefano Domenicali told reporters.

Red Bull boss Christian Horner said the sport had to stand together.

"Any act of terrorism cannot be condoned," the Briton told Sky Sports F1. "The sport shouldn’t be bullied into a position and a situation like that just isn’t acceptable."

Ralph Boschung of Switzerland and Campos Racing drives on the track during qualifying for the Formula 2 Championship at Jeddah Corniche Circuit, on Friday. Getty Images

Some fans told The National they were terrified and had left as soon as they heard the explosion.

“They are purposely doing this to Saudi Arabia while it is hosting a world-class event [Formula One] to try to tarnish its reputation and give an impression that it's unsafe when in fact, that is not true,” said Fatima, a visitor to the Formula One track.

“I was scared for my life and my family, we all made calls home to let our families know we are safe. I am devastated and shaken.”

Rockets were also fired towards Najran and Jazan near the Yemeni border, Saudi state media reported.

“The hostile attempts deliberately target civilian infrastructure and energy installations, and the continuation of the Houthis’ hostilities threatens regional and international security,” the coalition said.

“We support the Gulf and international stance for the success of the Yemeni talks while the Houthis are trying to thwart them,” the coalition added.

Earlier this week, the coalition destroyed two explosive-laden boats that the Houthis were reportedly planning to use in attacks on oil tankers in the southern Red Sea.

The UAE strongly condemned the rebels' attacks on civilian targets and vital economic facilities in Saudi Arabia and called for an international response to stop them.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said these recurrent attacks "reflected the Houthis terrorist militias' blatant defiance of the international community and their disregard of the efforts made to end the Yemeni crisis".

"This disregard of all international laws and norms requires a deterrent response to all that threatens the security, safety and lives of civilians," the ministry said in a statement on the state Wam news agency.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the attacks on its ally and said Washington would continue to work with Riyadh to strengthen its defences while working for a durable resolution to the conflict in Yemen.

"At a time when the parties should be focused on de-escalation and bringing needed life-saving relief to the Yemeni people ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, the Houthis continue their destructive behaviour and reckless terrorist attacks striking civilian infrastructure," Mr Blinken said.

Oil prices rebound after attack

The strikes come days after Houthi attacks damaged critical energy plants in the kingdom, temporarily cutting Saudi Arabia's oil production and pushing the already high Brent benchmark oil price up to $114.68 per barrel.

Oil prices rose on Friday, rebounding from early losses as traders rushed to buy. Brent crude rose $1.20, or 0.7 per cent, to $119.92 a barrel and US West Texas Intermediate crude was up $1.04, or 0.9 per cent, to $113.34.

Both had dropped more than $3 earlier and the benchmarks were heading for their first weekly gains in three weeks.

Brent was on track for a 10 per cent weekly jump and WTI for an 8 per cent rise.

Updated: March 26, 2022, 12:50 PM
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