Saudi airstrikes hit Yemen’s Houthis after Jeddah attack

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A Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen has unleashed a barrage of airstrikes on the capital and a strategic Red Sea town, officials said on Saturday. At least eight people were killed.

The nightly airstrikes on Sanaa and Hodeida – both held by the Houthis – came a day after the rebels attacked an oil depot in the Saudi city of Jeddah, their most publicized assault against the kingdom yet.

Brig. General Turki al-Malki, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, said the strikes targeted “sources of threat” to Saudi Arabia, according to the Saudi Press Agency or SPA.

He said the coalition intercepted and destroyed two explosive-laden drones early on Saturday. He said the drones were launched from Houthi-held civilian oil installations in Hodeidah, urging civilians to stay away from oil installations in the city.

Footage released online showed flames and plumes of smoke over Sanaa and Hodeidah. Associated Press reporters in the Yemeni capital heard loud explosions that rocked residential buildings.

Yemeni police inspect a site of Saudi-led airstrikes targeting two houses in Sanaa, Yemen, Saturday, March 26, 2022. A Houthi media office said an airstrike hit homes for security guards. social insurance office, killing at least seven people and injuring three.  others, including women and children.
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Yemeni police inspect a site of Saudi-led airstrikes targeting two houses in Sanaa, Yemen, Saturday, March 26, 2022. A Houthi media office said an airstrike hit homes for security guards. social insurance office, killing at least seven people and injuring three. others, including women and children.
(AP Photo/Hani Mohammad)

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The Houthis said the coalition airstrikes hit a power plant, a fuel station and the state-run social insurance office in the capital.

A Houthi media office said an airstrike hit houses for social insurance office guards in Haddah neighborhood in Sanaa, killing at least eight people and injuring four others, including women and men. children.

The bureau shared footage it said was from the aftermath of the airstrike showing debris in the courtyard of a social insurance office with the shattered windows of a nearby multi-story building.

Hamoud Abbad, a local Houthi official in Sanaa, said the facility is located near a building used by UN agencies in the capital. He said UN vehicles were seen leaving the area before the airstrikes.

In Hodeidah, the Houthi media office said the coalition struck oil facilities in violation of a 2018 ceasefire agreement that ended months of fighting in Hodeidah, which controls about 70% of the commercial and humanitarian imports from Yemen. The strikes also hit nearby Port Salif, also on the Red Sea.

A doll is seen at a site of Saudi-led airstrikes targeting two houses in Sanaa, Yemen, Saturday, March 26, 2022. A Houthi media office said an airstrike hit houses for guards insurance office, killing at least seven people and injuring three others, including women and children.

A doll is seen at a site of Saudi-led airstrikes targeting two houses in Sanaa, Yemen, Saturday, March 26, 2022. A Houthi media office said an airstrike hit houses for guards insurance office, killing at least seven people and injuring three others, including women and children.
(AP Photo/Hani Mohammad)

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Al-Malki, the coalition’s spokesman, said he was targeting drones being prepared in Hodeidah to be launched at the kingdom. He accused the Houthis of using civilian infrastructure, such as Hodeidah ports and Sanaa airport, to launch attacks on Saudi oil facilities, according to the SPA.

A UN mission overseeing the Hodeidah accord expressed concern over the airstrikes and urged the warring parties to “maintain the civilian nature of the ports and avoid damaging civilian infrastructure”.

The escalation, which comes on the seventh anniversary of the Saudi-led coalition’s intervention in the war in Yemen, risks complicating the efforts of the UN special envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, to achieve a humanitarian truce during the holy month of Ramadan” in early April.

It comes as the Gulf Cooperation Council plans to host the warring parties for talks later this month. The Houthis, however, dismissed Riyadh – the Saudi capital where the GCC is headquartered – as a venue for talks, which are expected to include a range of Yemeni factions.

“Once again we see civilians bearing the brunt of this conflict, which is getting worse every year,” said Erin Hutchinson, Yemeni director of the Norwegian Refugee Council, a charity working in Yemen. “This escalation will do nothing to compound the hardship millions of people are going through.”

A Yemeni soldier inspects a site of Saudi-led airstrikes targeting two houses in Sanaa, Yemen, Saturday, March 26, 2022. A Houthi media office said an airstrike hit homes for security guards. social insurance office, killing at least seven people and injuring three others, including women and children.

A Yemeni soldier inspects a site of Saudi-led airstrikes targeting two houses in Sanaa, Yemen, Saturday, March 26, 2022. A Houthi media office said an airstrike hit homes for security guards. social insurance office, killing at least seven people and injuring three others, including women and children.
(AP Photo/Hani Mohammad)

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Yemen’s brutal war erupted in 2014 after the Houthis captured Sanaa. Months later, Saudi Arabia and its allies launched a devastating air campaign to dislodge the Houthis and restore the internationally recognized government.

The conflict has in recent years become a regional proxy war that has killed more than 150,000 people, including more than 14,500 civilians. It has also created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

Friday’s Houthi attack came ahead of a Formula One race in the kingdom on Sunday, raising 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 attacked in recent days – the bulk plant in northern Jiddah, located just southeast of the city’s international airport and which is a hub crucial for Muslim pilgrims to Mecca.

Planet Labs PBC satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press showed that one of two tanks damaged in the Houthi attack on Jeddah was still burning late Saturday morning. Bright red flames erupted from the tank with thick black smoke rising from the fire.

The attack appeared to be targeting fresh tanks, as a tank hit twice by the Houthis just two rows to the north appeared intact in the fresh attack. A tank next to the burning one seemed to be surrounded by white film and fire-retardant foam.

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In Egypt, hundreds of passengers were stranded at Cairo International Airport after their flights to Jeddah were canceled due to the Houthi attack, airport officials said.

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 with 146 passengers was operated by low-cost Saudi 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 under cover of the anonymity as they were not authorized to brief the media.

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