Sanaa // Yemen’s Houthi rebels fired rockets and mortars into Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, killing at least two civilians and capturing five soldiers.
Saudi Arabia’s state airline cancelled flights into the border area of Najran as schools closed early amid the attack. Meanwhile, hundreds of families fled Aden after the Houthis advanced into their neighbourhoods, firing indiscriminately as they took over surrounding, towering mountains.
In Najran, the shelling killed two Saudi civilians and damaged buildings, Yemeni tribal leaders said. The state-run airline, Saudia, said flights to and from the area would be suspended until further notice.
Saudi state television showed images of parked cars with windows blown out, chunks torn out of the pavement, a building peppered with shrapnel, and one room completely charred and with a hole in the roof.
The tribal leaders also said the Houthis captured five Saudi soldiers in unclear circumstances. Saudi media and defence officials had no immediate comment on the report.
Coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Assiri told Al Ekhbariya television that the rebels had “randomly” shelled Najran “hitting hospitals, schools and civilian homes.”
“Air and ground forces will respond in the right way to these hazardous acts and will not allow them to be repeated,” Gen Assiri said.
The Saudi military had already deployed Apache combat helicopters to target the rebels in the border area, he added.
He added that Saudi Apache attack helicopters returned fire.
Last week, three Saudi troops and dozens of rebels were killed in the fighting there.
Saudi Arabia has reinforced the frontier with artillery, tanks and hilltop lookout posts to block any Houthi incursion from their traditional highland stronghold just across the border.
The assault on Tuesday underscored how the Iranian-allied Houthis are still capable of launching major operations despite more than a month of Saudi-led air strikes targeting them and their allies – military units loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
A Saudi-led coalition began bombing the Houthi rebels and their allies on March 26 in support of exiled President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi’s embattled government. The air strikes and fighting on the ground have killed hundreds and displaced at least 300,000 Yemenis.
In Aden, residents said that Houthis advanced into a large section of the city’s Tawahi district, forcing hundreds of families to flee to safer areas using boats. The residents said they had been trapped inside their homes for weeks.
Mona Abdel-Maged, among residents of the area reached by telephone, said a mortar shell had killed her husband, then a second shell killed six men trying to pull his body from the rubble.
“After burying the dead, we would still find torn limbs and body parts in the streets. So we go back and buy them,” she said.
Mona Mohsen, one of the residents, said panic and the sound of gunfire sent people rushing into the streets.
Aden, which Mr Hadi had declared as a temporary capital before fleeing for Saudi Arabia, is one of the main battlegrounds in a war that the UN and other aid agencies warn is pushing the impoverished nation into a humanitarian disaster.
*Associated Press and Agence France-Presse