Saudi Arabia blames Iran-backed rebels after armed drones ignite fuel tank

No claim of responsibility for attack which Riyadh said was carried out by Houthis using bomb-carrying UAVs on 6th anniversary of kingdom’s entry into Yemen’s civil war

In this Aug. 22, 2020 file photo, tribesmen loyal to Houthi rebels raise their weapons during a protest against the agreement to establish diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, in Sanaa, Yemen. (AP/Hani Mohammed, File)
In this Aug. 22, 2020 file photo, tribesmen loyal to Houthi rebels raise their weapons during a protest against the agreement to establish diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, in Sanaa, Yemen. (AP/Hani Mohammed, File)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A fuel tank at an oil facility in Saudi Arabia caught fire after being struck by a projectile, the kingdom said Friday, an attack that came on the sixth anniversary of its entry into Yemen’s years-long civil war.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the assault at Jizan in southwest Saudi Arabia near the border with Yemen, though it came during what Saudi defense officials described as a barrage of eight bomb-carrying drones launched by the Houthi rebels.

The kingdom has faced an increasing number of such assaults and the tempo hasn’t slowed since it offered a cease-fire deal to the Houthis on Monday.

The attack in Jizan, some 970 kilometers (600 miles) southwest of Riyadh on the Red Sea, struck a distribution facility just after 9 p.m. Thursday, the Saudi Energy Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

Yemenis attend the funeral of pro-Houthi fighters killed in battles in Yemen, on February 10, 2021, in the capital Sanaa’s al-Saleh mosque. (Mohammed HUWAIS / AFP)

“The attack resulted in a fire in one of the terminal’s tanks,” the statement said, without elaborating. “The attack left no casualties.”

Saudi Arabia did not specifically identify the area struck. However, Jizan is home to a new refinery and port facilities for the energy giant Saudi Arabian Oil Co. The refinery, with a capacity of 400,000 barrels a day, sent its first shipment abroad last year. Jizan also is transliterated from Arabic as Jazan by Aramco.

Jizan and its new refinery have long been targeted by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in their campaign against the kingdom. However, the rebels did not immediately claim the attack.

This satellite image from Cnes2021, Distribution Airbus DS, shows the cargo ship MV Ever Given stuck in the Suez Canal near Suez, Egypt, March 25, 2021. (Cnes2021, Distribution Airbus DS via AP)

Benchmark Brent crude rose to over $62 a barrel in early trading Friday after the attack. Energy prices have risen recently off growing demand as coronavirus vaccinations increase and Egypt’s Suez Canal remains closed due to a massive container ship wedged across the vital waterway.

The Saudi-led coalition entered Yemen’s war on March 25, 2015, as the Houthis threatened to take Yemen’s port city of Aden and completely overrun the country’s internationally recognized government. The Saudis promised that the offensive — the brainchild of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — would be over in short order.

Six years later, the fighting rages on. The war has killed some 130,000 people, including over 13,000 civilians slain in targeted attacks, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Project. Tens of thousands of children have died of starvation and disease.

The war has also turned into a regional conflict, with the Saudis using US-made weaponry in internationally criticized airstrikes killing civilians, and Iran being linked to weapons used by the Houthis to target the kingdom.

On Monday, Saudi Arabia offered a new ceasefire proposal to the Houthis. It made two concessions to the Houthis in the plan while not offering everything the rebels previously wanted. The first involves reopening Sanaa International Airport, a vital link for Yemen to the outside world that hasn’t seen regular commercial flights since 2015. Officials did not immediately identify what commercial routes they wanted to see resume.

The second would see taxes, customs and other fees generated by the Hodeida port while importing oil put into a joint account of Yemen’s Central Bank. That account would be accessible to the Houthis and Yemen’s recognized government to pay civil servants and fund other programs, officials said.

The Saudi government and the Yemeni government it backs have accused the Houthis of stealing those funds in the past.

The Houthis did not reject the offer outright, though its officials said they wanted both the airport and Hodeida port reopened without restrictions. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday praised the arrival of four fuel ships to Hodeida, on a call with the Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, as a way to “mitigate the fuel shortage facing the country and get much needed help to the people of Yemen.”

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