SANAA, Yemen (AP) – A Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen has unleashed a spate of airstrikes on the capital and a strategic Red Sea city, officials said on Saturday. At least seven people were killed.
The night air raids on Sanaa and Hodeida – both Houthis-held – came a day after the rebels attacked an oil depot in the Saudi city of Jiddah, their most high-profile attack on the kingdom to date.
Brig. According to the Saudi state press agency, General Turki al-Malki, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, said the attacks were targeting “sources of threat” to Saudi Arabia.
He said the coalition intercepted and destroyed two drones loaded with explosives early Saturday. He said the drones were launched from Houthi-held civilian oil facilities in Hodeida and urged civilians to stay away from oil facilities in the city.
Footage circulating online showed flames and plumes of smoke over Sana’a and Hodeidah.
The Houthis said coalition airstrikes hit a power plant, a gas station and the state Social Security office in the capital.
A Houthi media office claimed an airstrike hit homes of Social Security Guards, killing at least seven people and wounding three others, including women and children. It provided no evidence and journalists were not allowed on the premises.
In Hodeida, the Houthi media office said the coalition struck oil facilities in violation of a 2018 ceasefire agreement that ended months of fighting in Hodeida, where about 70% of Yemen’s commercial and humanitarian imports are handled. The strikes also hit nearby Port Salif, also on the Red Sea.
Al-Malki, the coalition spokesman, was not immediately available for comment on the Houthi claims.
The escalation is likely to complicate efforts by UN special envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, for a humanitarian ceasefire in early April during the holy month of Ramadan.
It comes as the Gulf Cooperation Council plans to invite the warring parties to talks later this month. However, the Houthis have rejected Riyadh – the Saudi capital where the GCC is headquartered – as the venue for talks, which a number of Yemeni factions are expected to attend.
The brutal war in Yemen erupted in 2014 after the Houthis seized Sanaa. Months later, Saudi Arabia and its allies launched a devastating air campaign to oust the Houthis and restore internationally recognized government.
The conflict has escalated into a regional proxy war in recent years that has killed more than 150,000 people, including over 14,500 civilians. It also created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
The Houthis’ Friday attack came ahead of a Formula One race in the kingdom on Sunday and raised concerns about Saudi Arabia’s ability to defend itself against Iran-backed rebels.
Friday’s attack targeted the same fuel depot that the Houthis had been attacking in recent days — the North Jiddah Bulk Plant, which is southeast of the city’s international airport and is a major hub for Muslim pilgrims en route to Mecca.
In Egypt, airport officials said hundreds of passengers were stranded at Cairo International Airport after their flights to Jiddah were canceled over the Houthi attack.
The Kingdom’s flagship airline, Saudia, announced the cancellation of two flights on its website. The two had booked 456 passengers. A third canceled flight, carrying 146 passengers, was operated by Saudi low-cost airline Flynas.
Some passengers found seats on other flights to Saudi Arabia and others were booked into hotels near Cairo airport, according to Egyptian officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to inform the media.