March 28, 2020 / 9:00 PM / 2 months ago

Saudi intercepts missiles in attacks claimed by Yemen's Houthis

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia said its air defenses intercepted two ballistic missiles on Saturday night in an attack that Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group on Sunday said they had launched towards the capital Riyadh and southern areas near the Yemeni border.

The attacks come days after Yemen’s warring parties had welcomed a U.N. call for an immediate truce on Thursday to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

“Two civilians were slightly injured due to the falling of the intercepted missile’s debris as it exploded in mid-air over residential districts,” in Riyadh, the Saudi state news agency (SPA) reported, citing a Saudi civil defense spokesman, Lt. Colonel Mohammed al-Hammadi.

Residents in Riyadh reported multiple blasts around 2320 (2020 GMT), followed by emergency vehicle sirens in some northern districts.

No fatalities had been recorded from the shrapnel that fell on Riyadh, in the center of the kingdom, and the southwestern city of Jazan, located on the Red Sea directly north of the border with Yemen, SPA said, citing a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthis in Yemen, Colonel Turki al-Malki.

Yemen’s Houthis battling the Saudi-led coalition have launched hundreds of missiles and drones across the border, mostly at nearby military and civilian targets but also at Riyadh. The last attempted strike on the capital was in June 2018.

Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for a September 2019 drone and missile attack on two oil installations that initially halved Saudi oil output, even after the Houthis claimed responsibility. Tehran denies involvement.

The Saudi-led coalition on Friday said it had also intercepted and destroyed drones launched by the Houthis towards the Saudi cities of Abha and Khamis Mushait.

A military spokesman for Yemen’s Houthis on Sunday said the group’s forces had launched rockets and drones at “sensitive” sites in the Saudi capital Riyadh and at economic and military sites in Jazan, Najran and Asir, near the Yemeni border.

Spokesman Yahya Saria said Zulfiqar missiles and Samad 3 drones were launched at Riyadh, and other drones and missiles at the southern areas. Saria warned of further “painful operations” against Saudi Arabia if aggression against Yemen continued.

Yemen has been mired in conflict since the Houthis ousted the government from power in the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014. The coalition intervened in early 2015 to restore the internationally recognized government. The Houthis still control most major urban centers.

Yemen had witnessed a lull in military action after Saudi Arabia and the Houthis launched back-channel talks late last year. But recent months have seen a spike in violence that threatens fragile peace deals in vital port cities.

Coalition spokesman Malki said that the firing of missiles at this time by the Houthis and Iranian Revolutionary Guards showed the real threat posed by the group and the Iranian regime supporting it. Malki added that this escalation did not reflect the group’s announcement that it was welcoming a ceasefire.

Houthi news outlet Al Masirah has reported a number of coalition air attacks over the past two days on Houthi-held territory.

Reporting by Stephen Kalin, Lisa Barrington, Nayera Abdallah and Alaa Swilam; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Rosalba O'Brien and Jane Merriman

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