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Bennett denounces ‘horrific attack’ on Saudi Arabia by Iran-backed Houthis

Expressing Israel’s ‘sorrow’ to Saudis, prime minister says strikes by Yemen rebels on Riyadh and Jeddah show Tehran’s ‘regional aggression knows no bounds’

This satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC shows a fire still burning at Saudi Aramco's North Jiddah Bulk Plant after an attack by Yemen's Houthi rebels ahead of a Formula One race in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on March 26, 2022. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
This satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC shows a fire still burning at Saudi Aramco's North Jiddah Bulk Plant after an attack by Yemen's Houthi rebels ahead of a Formula One race in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on March 26, 2022. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

In an unusual condemnation, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Saturday denounced an attack launched the previous day by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh and the Red Sea port city of Jeddah.

Among the sites targeted in the wave of Houthi drone and missile attacks on Friday was an oil plant that was set ablaze near the Formula One race in Jeddah, marking the rebel’s highest-profile assault yet on the kingdom.

The Houthis claimed to have hit “vital facilities in Riyadh,” but the damage to the Saudi capital was unclear.

“The State of Israel expresses its sorrow to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia after the horrific attack by the Iranian-backed Houthis,” Bennett said in a statement.

“This attack is further proof that Iran’s regional aggression knows no bounds and reinforces the concern of Iran’s IRGC being removed from the FTO list,” he added, referring to reports the US is considering delisting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terror group as part of a nuclear agreement with Iran.

Bennett’s statement came ahead of his meeting Sunday with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during which the two are expected to discuss the possible US return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, a move Israel opposes.

Also on Sunday, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will host a summit in the Negev Desert that will be attended by Blinken and their counterparts from Saudi Arabia’s fellow Gulf states Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Morocco. Egypt’s foreign minister is also expected to attend the event at Sde Boker. Unlike those four Arab nations, Saudi Arabia does not have formal ties with Jerusalem.

On behalf of the UAE, Israel has lobbied the US to again list the Houthis as a terror group. The UAE is allied with Saudi Arabia against the Houthis and has also been targeted by the rebels.

“Israel needs to utilize the meeting at Sde Boker tomorrow to lead an international process of declaring the Iranian proxy as a terror organization. This is the time to stand by our regional allies,” MK Zvi Hauser of the coalition’s New Hope party said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (L) speaks with New Hope MK Zvi Hauser during a Knesset plenum session on February 28, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After the airstrikes against Riyadh and Jeddah, the Saudi-led coalition unleashed a barrage of airstrikes on Yemen’s rebel-held capital Sana’a and the strategic Red Sea city of Hodeida. At least eight people were killed.

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

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

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

In Yemen, the Houthis announced a three-day truce with the Saudi-led coalition and dangled the prospect of a “permanent” ceasefire on Saturday, the seventh anniversary of a brutal conflict that has left millions on the brink of famine.

As thousands of people marched in Sana’a to mark the anniversary, political leader Mahdi al-Mashat appeared on TV to announce the “suspension of missile and drone strikes and all military actions for a period of three days.”

“And we are ready to turn this declaration into a final and permanent commitment in the event that Saudi Arabia commits to ending the siege and stopping its raids on Yemen once and for all,” he said.

There was no immediate response from Saudi Arabia.

Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country even before the war, has been teetering on the brink of catastrophe for years as the complex conflict rages on multiple fronts.

Yemeni police inspect a site of Saudi-led airstrikes targeting two houses in Sana’a, Yemen, March 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

Yemen’s brutal war erupted in 2014 after the Houthis seized Sana’a. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war months later to try to 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 over 14,500 civilians. It also created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

The Houthis’ Friday attack came ahead of a Formula One race in the kingdom on Sunday, raising concerns about Saudi Arabia’s ability to defend itself against the Iranian-backed rebels.

Jake Sullivan, White House national security adviser, condemned the attacks and called them “clearly enabled by Iran” despite an ongoing UN arms embargo. While Tehran denies arming the Houthis, UN experts and Western nations have linked weaponry in the rebels’ hands back to Iran.

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

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