Riyadh intercepts five Houthi drones in fresh cross-border attack

Riyadh intercepts five Houthi drones in fresh cross-border attack
The five drones targeted Abha airport and the nearby city of Khamis Mushait, which houses a major airbase, the coalition said in a statement released by Saudi state media.

4 min read
14 June, 2019
Houthi drones have frequently attacked Saudi Arabia in recent weeks [File Photo: Getty]

Saudi forces on Friday intercepted five drones launched by Yemeni rebels, a Riyadh-led military coalition said, in a second assault on an airport in the kingdom's southwest in two days.

The drones targeted Abha airport, where a rebel missile on Wednesday left 26 civilians wounded, and the nearby city of Khamis Mushait, which houses a major airbase, the coalition said in a statement released by Saudi state media.

The latest raid comes amid spiralling regional tensions after Washington accused Iran of carrying out attacks that left two tankers ablaze in the Gulf of Oman, the second such incident in a month in the strategic sea lane.

"The royal Saudi air defence force and air force successfully intercepted and destroyed five unmanned drone aircraft launched by Houthi militia towards Abha international airport and Khamis Mushait," the coalition statement said without reporting any casualties.

The airport was operating normally with no fights disrupted, the statement added.

Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV reported earlier that the Iran-aligned rebels had carried out drone attacks on Abha Airport.

The rebels, who have faced persistent coalition bombing since March 2015 that has exacted a heavy civilian death toll, have stepped up missile and drone attacks across the border in recent weeks.

Wednesday's missile strike hit the civil airport in the mountain resort of Abha, which is a popular summer getaway for Saudis seeking escape from the searing heat of Riyadh or 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, AFP saw.

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

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.

Read more: Middle East drone wars heat up in Yemen

The coalition vowed to "take stern action" to deter the rebels and protect civilians after the missile attack, which drew international condemnation including from the European Union.


Prince Khalid, a son of King Salman and the brother of notorious Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unleashed a war-of-words with the Houthis in the aftermath of the  attack, which he blamed on the Yemen rebels' "patrons" Iran.

Riyadh has accused the rebels of being Iranian proxies ever since it led its allies in launching a military intervention against them in March 2015, but the rebel group has consistently denied those claims, alleging they are "independent in our decisions and ... we are not subordinated to anyone", Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the president of the rebel's Supreme Revolutionary Committee said.

Shortly after Prince Khalid bin Salman's comments, Saudi-led coalition jets pounded Yemen's capital on Thursday, residents and the Houthi-run al-Masirah TV said.

The airstrikes targeted military camps west and north of the capital city, Reuters reported, with local media specifying 8 raids hit the Special Forces camp in the Sabahah area, while two others struck the Houthi-controlled Al-Siyana camp.

The Houthis have increasingly targeted the kingdom with bomb-carrying drones and have rejected Saudi claims that their attacks are directed by Iran, instead blaming the attacks on Riyadh's rejection of peace initiatives in Yemen.

Last month the Houthis claimed several drone attacks targeting oil installations and airports in Saudi Arabia.

Read more: Houthis justify attacks on Saudi Arabia as 'response to spurned peace moves'

Houthi drone attacks briefly shut down a major oil pipeline in the kingdom, as well as allegedly targeting military installations at Najran airport

Saudi Arabia confirmed the attacks but claimed the Houthis had attempted to strike civilian infrastructure at the airport.

Airports in the Middle East are frequently home to both civilian and military aviation bases.

The Saudi-led coalition responded to those drone strikes with its own airstrikes in Yemen that killed dozens, including children.

The Yemen conflict exacerbated after a Saudi-led coalition intervened in March 2015 to reinstate the Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi government after the rebels overran the capital and other major cities.

The conflict, which forced Hadi to relocate to Saudi Arabia, has killed tens of thousands people, many of them civilians, relief agencies say.

The fighting has triggered what the United Nations describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with 24.1 million - more than two-thirds of the population - in need of aid.

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