Coalition downs Houthi drones targeting Saudi civilian sites

Coalition spokesman Col Turki Al Malki said targets were the kingdom’s border towns of Abha and Khamis Mushait

FILE PHOTO: A girl wears a protective face mask amid fears of the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sanaa, Yemen March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File Photo

The Saudi-led Arab coalition in intercepted and destroyed drones launched by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis rebels.

The targets were "civilian targets" in the kingdom’s border towns of Abha and Khamis Mushait, state-run Saudi Press Agency quoted coalition spokesman Col Turki Al Malki saying early on Friday.

Last June, Houthi rockets hit Abha airport, wounding 26 passengers. The attack was followed up by several other attempts to hit the regional airport.

The attack comes after Yemen's warring parties had welcomed a UN call for an immediate truce on Thursday to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

Yemen has been mired in conflict since the Houthis ousted the government from power in the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014. The group still controls most major urban centres despite years of war.

The Yemeni government on Friday also denied claims made by the Houthi leadership that the novel coronavirus currently sweeping the world had ravaged the district of Hajjah north-west of Sanaa.

Yemeni Information Minister Muammar Al Iryani pointed out that health officials and the World Health Organisation have yet to register a single case of the virus or treat anyone suffering from Covid-19 caused by the disease.

He called it “political and… psychological warfare on the Yemenis in service of their obscurantist project imported from Iran."

"These irresponsible statements and foolish allegations issued by the leader of the Houthi militia reveal the level of moral downfall and their efforts to bring the global pandemic into the context of the conflict,” Mr Al Iryani said.

The statement came as local media reported that Abhijit Guha, a retired Indian lieutenant general who serves as the head of the UN mission in Hodeidah, and his team are being quarantined under the orders of the Houthis. The reports said they were stopped after returning from a trip to Jordan.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for a global ceasefire to prevent war obstructing the battle against the virus that has spread to over 100 countries, infected at least 532,000 people and killed at least 24,000. An estimated 122,672 people who had the disease have so far recovered.

Most people who catch the coronavirus experience mild flu-like symptoms. However, those with underlying health difficulties or immunodeficiencies are particularly at risk.

While it is believed that younger people are less at risk than those over the age of 70, several countries have reported a large number of people under 50 being hospitalised for critical care and also dying of Covid-19.

In Lebanon, two-thirds of those infected are under 49 years old. Lebanon is not conducting widespread testing of the general population but assessing cases that are hospitalised.

A report by Lebanon’s Disaster Risk Management Unit said 27 per cent of the 304 cases recorded in the country as of Tuesday were 29 years old or younger. Another 35 per cent of the cases were between 30 and 49 years old.

Those over 60 years old comprise one-quarter of the total cases in Lebanon, the report said.

The Yemeni government and international aid agencies have expressed alarm at the level of preparedness in the county left devastated by five years of war.

The Health Ministry is rushing medical staff to Aden to undergo training to diagnose and treat coronavirus patients before heading back to their provinces to prepare for the likely arrival of the virus.