Coalition hits Sanaa after five drones targeted Saudi Arabia

Attempted attack on Abha civilian airport on Friday was the second in a week

The Arab coalition pounded military targets belonging to Iran-backed rebels in Yemen on Saturday, a day after Saudi Arabia intercepted five drones launched by the Houthis at airports in the kingdom’s south.

Friday’s attack represents the second strike launched at a Saudi airport after a Houthi missile hit Abha airport on Wednesday, wounding 26 civilians. Friday’s attack was targeting Abha airport for a second time as well as the nearby city of Khamis Mushait, which houses an important airbase.

The uptick in attacks came as tensions in the region escalated after tankers in the Gulf of Oman were set ablaze in attacks. Four other tankers were attacked off the UAE’s Fujairah coast in last month. The incidents have ratcheted up concerns in the oil and shipping industries, forcing tanker insurance costs up by at least 10 per cent and the pushing the price of Brent Crude above $60.

The Yemeni rebels, who seized much of the country including the capital of Sanaa in 2015, have warned that coalition airports were valid targets.

FILE PHOTO: A view of the old quarter of Sanaa, Yemen November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi/File Photo
A view of the old quarter of Sanaa, Yemen November 14, 2018. Reuters, file

On Saturday, jets struck a number of rebel targets, including air defence systems, the Arab coalition backing the internationally recognised government of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi said.

Abha airport is busy during the summer months as Saudis holiday in the mountainous south to get away from the summer heat in Riyadh and Jeddah.

During a media tour of the airport on Thursday, Saudi authorities said they had closed a part of the arrival lounge after the missile tore a hole in the roof and disrupted flights for several hours.

The area was covered in bamboo scaffolding and littered with concrete debris and shards of broken glass.

Two passengers, including an Indian national, who suffered injuries recalled pandemonium and screams after a loud explosion triggered a blaze, leaving the lounge covered in smoke.

Human Rights Watch denounced the strike as an apparent "war crime".

"The Houthis should immediately stop all attacks on civilian infrastructure in Saudi Arabia," said HRW's deputy Middle East director Michael Page.

A Saudi civil aviation official said authorities were still investigating rebel claims that they fired a cruise missile at the airport.

If confirmed that would represent a major leap in the rebels' military capability, experts say.

The official also confirmed that it had not been intercepted by the kingdom's Patriot anti-missile batteries.

The coalition has provided numerous documents that show the rapid increase in rocket skill and technology used by Houthis that they say is evidence that Iran – which has its own sophisticated ballistic missile technology – has been arming the rebels. Tehran denies that it provides missiles to the rebels.

The coalition intervened in support of the Yemeni government in 2015 when President Hadi fled into Saudi exile as the rebels closed in on his last remaining territory in and around second city Aden.

Since then, the conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, many of them civilians, relief agencies say.

It has triggered what the UN describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 24 million Yemenis – more than two-thirds of the population – in need of aid.

Updated: June 15, 2019 11:04 PM


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