Saudi Arabia says Houthis targeted its energy facilities in drone, missile strike

Salvo marks latest escalation in cross-border attacks by Iran-backed group; civilian homes also damaged; military says it thwarted attack on liquified gas plant

Illustrative: A silhouette of a Houthi supporter holds his weapon during a rally marking six years for a Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa, Yemen, on Friday, March 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
Illustrative: A silhouette of a Houthi supporter holds his weapon during a rally marking six years for a Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa, Yemen, on Friday, March 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Yemen’s Houthi rebels unleashed a barrage of drone and missile strikes on Saudi Arabia early Sunday that targeted a liquified natural gas plant, water desalination plant, oil facility, and power station, Saudi state-run media reported.

The attacks did not cause casualties, the Saudi-led military coalition fighting in Yemen said, but damaged civilian vehicles and homes in the area. The salvo marked the latest escalation in Houthi cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia as peace talks remain stalled and the conflict that has laid waste to much of Yemen since 2015 rages on.

The drones were intercepted and destroyed near Yemen after the attacks, with a ballistic missile fired towards the city of Jazan also stopped, the coalition said.

Yehia Sarie, a spokesman for Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels said the group had launched “a wide and large military operation into the depth of Saudi Arabia,” without immediately elaborating.

The Saudi military coalition said it thwarted an attack on a liquified gas plant at a petrochemicals complex in the Red Sea port of Yanbu run by the Saudi Arabian Oil Co., better known as Aramco. It wasn’t immediately clear if the attack had inflicted any damage on the plant.

Other aerial strikes targeted a power station in the country’s southwest, a desalination facility in Al-Shaqeeq on the Red Sea coast, an Aramco terminal in the southern border town of Jizan, and a gas station in the southern city of Khamis Mushait, the coalition said.

The extent of the damage was unclear. The official Saudi Press Agency posted various photos of firetrucks dousing leaping flames with water hoses, as well as wrecked cars and craters in the ground allegedly left by the series of drone and ballistic missile strikes.

Fuel trucks line up in front of storage tanks at the North Jiddah bulk plant, an Aramco oil facility, in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, on March 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

The barrage comes after the Saudi-based Gulf Cooperation Council invited Yemen’s warring sides for talks in Riyadh aimed at ending the war — an offer dismissed out of hand by the Houthis, who demanded that negotiations take place in a “neutral” country.

Peace talks have floundered since the Houthis have tried to capture oil-rich Marib, one of the last remaining strongholds of the Saudi-backed Yemeni government in the country’s north.

Yemen’s brutal war erupted in 2015, after the Iran-backed Shiite Houthis seized the country’s capital, Sanaa, and much of the north. Saudi Arabia, fearing an Iranian presence on its border, and other Arab states launched a devastating air campaign to oust the Houthis and restore the internationally recognized government.

The conflict has settled into a bloody stalemate, with Saudi Arabia and its allies struggling to turn the tide. Saudi-led coalition airstrikes have decimated infrastructure and struck civilian targets in Yemen like hospitals and wedding parties, drawing widespread international criticism.

Houthi supporters chant slogans as they attend a rally marking six years for a Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa, Yemen, on Friday, March 26, 2021. A fuel tank at an oil facility in Saudi Arabia caught fire after being struck in an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, officials said, an attack that came on the sixth anniversary of the kingdom’s entry into Yemen’s yearslong civil war. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

The latest round of attacks comes after an oil refinery in the Saudi capital Riyadh was targeted on March 10 by a drone, an operation claimed by the Houthis.

Earlier this week, the Houthis rejected an invitation from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council to attend talks on the Yemen conflict, to be held in Riyadh from March 29.

Saudi Arabia is leading a military coalition in Yemen in support of the internationally recognized government, which has been engaged in a bloody conflict against the Houthis since mid-2014.

The war has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, directly or indirectly, and displaced millions, in what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

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