Saudi-led coalition says it thwarted an armed drone attack launched by Yemen’s Houthis on a key air base.
Saudi forces have intercepted an armed drone fired by Houthi fighters in Yemen, the Riyadh-led coalition said, a day after the armed group struck an airport in the kingdom.
The latest drone attack targeted the garrison town of Khamis Mushait that hosts a key airbase in southern Saudi Arabia but was destroyed before reaching its target, coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki said, quoted by the kingdom’s official SPA agency on Thursday.
Several drones attacked Abha’s international airport in the kingdom’s southwest on Wednesday, prompting Washington to call for an end to Houthi aggression.
The coalition said the attack set a civilian aircraft ablaze, while the Houthis said they had struck Abha airport with four drones, claiming it was used to launch attacks inside Yemen.
The United States reacted by calling for the rebels to “immediately stop these aggressive acts”, just days after demanding an end to any new offensive in Yemen.
US President Joe Biden, who has reversed his predecessor Donald Trump’s policy on the conflict, has deployed his new Yemen envoy to Saudi Arabia.
On Wednesday, Tim Lenderking and his United Nations counterpart Martin Griffiths met Saudi’s deputy defence minister, Khaled bin Salman, who oversees the Yemen portfolio.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the attack on Abha during a call with his Saudi opposite number Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, SPA reported.
Washington has ended its support for coalition military operations in Yemen and removed the Houthis from a list of designated “terrorist” organisations but reiterated its support for Riyadh in defending its territory.
The Houthis have resumed an offensive in Yemen to seize the government’s last northern stronghold of Marib.
The battle has centred on a government military base west of the city of Marib, a pro-government commander at the scene told the AFP news agency.
“The camp was taken by the Houthis but they were dislodged by aerial raids” by the coalition which struck about 10 times, he said.
Losing the camp would sever an important supply line for government forces, he said.
Clashes at the base on Wednesday killed 23 Houthi fighters and 15 pro-government forces, according to the commander.
Reinforcements to support government forces had arrived in the neighbouring province of Shabwa, he said.
Loudspeakers on mosques in Marib were used to urge locals to join the fight or to donate cash.
The Houthis’ self-proclaimed foreign minister, Hisham Sharaf, said on Tuesday the rebels’ cross-border attacks were in response to coalition air raids in support of the government.
The conflict in Yemen started in 2014 when the Houthis seized large swathes of the country, including the capital, Sanaa.
The war escalated in March 2015, when the Saudi Arabia-led coalition intervened in an attempt to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
In recent years, the Houthis have repeatedly used ballistic missiles and drones to target international airports, along with military installations and critical oil infrastructure, within Saudi Arabia. Those attacks, often focused on the southern cities of Abha and Jizan, have wounded dozens and killed at least one person.
Both sides in Yemen’s conflict have since been accused of war crimes during fighting that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions, sparking what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.