Coalition raids hit Yemen rebels after missile targets Riyadh

SANAA – The Saudi-led coalition targeted rebel positions near Yemen’s capital with air strikes Wednesday, witnesses said, a day after Riyadh said it intercepted a missile fired by the Huthi insurgents.

Witnesses told AFP the air raids targeted a rebel camp south of Sanaa and a second camp to the west. A security source close to the rebels said the raids were carried out by the Saudi-led alliance.

Security and medical sources in Sanaa have not yet confirmed casualties. But the rebel-run Saba press agency said 38 people, including women and children, had been killed or wounded in a series of raids targeting different parts of Yemen.

The raids followed a missile attack by the Huthi rebels on Tuesday against the Saudi capital. Saudi Arabia said it “intercepted and destroyed” the missile.

The Huthis said that “the target of the ballistic missile was a large gathering of Saudi regime leaders in the Yamamah Palace,” where King Salman – hours later – unveiled the country’s 2018 budget. Yemen is in the midst of a bloody war between the Huthis and pro-government forces, who were driven from Sanaa in September 2014.

Rebel chief Abdelmalik al-Huthi said Tuesday’s attack was timed to coincide with the 1,000th day of the Saudi-led intervention. It was the second ballistic missile to target the heart of Riyadh in less than two months.

The first failed attempt came on November 4 and triggered a sharp Saudi response – the full closure of Yemen’s ports and borders that were already under an extensive blockade.

At the time, the UN aid chief warned the siege – namely on the key rebel-held port of Hodeida – could trigger the worst famine the world has seen in decades.

The blockade was partially lifted three weeks later amid massive international pressure.

The coalition issued a statement Wednesday saying it would not resort to closing Hodeida port.

“The coalition leadership announces the port of Hodeida will remain open for humanitarian and relief supplies and the entry of commercial vessels, including fuel and food vessels, for a period of 30 days,” the statement, published on the state-run SPA news agency said.

Saudi Arabia and its ally the United States have accused Iran of being behind the missile attacks on Riyadh.

Tehran denied the charge on Wednesday, saying it has “no arms link with Yemen”.

More than 8,750 people have been killed since Saudi Arabia and its allies joined the government’s fight against the rebels, triggering what the UN has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Meanwhile, Tehran strongly denied on Wednesday that it had supplied weapons to Yemeni rebels which they used in attacks on its archfoe Saudi Arabia as alleged by both Riyadh and Washington.

“We have no arms link with Yemen,” foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told the ISNA news agency, after Saudi Arabia said it had intercepted a rebel missile over Riyadh on Tuesday that it suggested was “Iranian-manufactured”.

“The accusation that Iran gives weapons to various groups is rejected and we strongly deny it,” he said.

“Yemen is in a blockade and such possibility does not exist anyway.”

The audacious attack aimed at the heart of Saudi power follows the downing of another missile last month near Riyadh airport that triggered the tightening of a Saudi-led blockade on hunger-stricken Yemen.

Weapons used by the rebels “to defend against violation and non-stop attacks” are leftovers of previous governments, Ghasemi said.

“There isn’t even the possibility of sending humanitarian aid.”

A Saudi-led coalition has been battling Shia rebels in Yemen since March 2015 and has repeatedly accused Shia Iran of backing its co-religionists.

“The possession of Iranian-manufactured ballistic weapons by terrorist organisations, including the Iran-backed Huthi militia, is a threat to regional and international security,” coalition spokesman said on Tuesday.

US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley described the strike as bearing “all the hallmarks of previous attacks using Iranian-provided weapons”.

She said Washington would be discussing options for Security Council action against Tehran, although that immediately drew strong reservations from Moscow.

More than 8,750 people have been killed since Saudi Arabia and its allies joined the beleaguered government’s fight against the rebels, triggering what the UN has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.


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