Saudi forces intercept 5 Houthi drones in fresh airport attack
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Saudi forces intercept 5 Houthi drones in fresh airport attack

Iran-backed Yemen rebels earlier claimed successful UAV strike on Abha airport, days after missile hit southern air terminal

This photograph released by the state-run Saudi Press Agency shows debris on the tarmac of Abha Regional Airport after an attack by Yemen's Houthi rebels in Abha, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, June 12, 2019. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)
This photograph released by the state-run Saudi Press Agency shows debris on the tarmac of Abha Regional Airport after an attack by Yemen's Houthi rebels in Abha, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, June 12, 2019. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi forces on Friday intercepted five Yemeni rebel drones in the second aerial attack on an airport in the kingdom’s southwest in two days, a Riyadh-led military coalition fighting the rebels said.

The drones targeted Abha airport, where a rebel missile on Wednesday left 26 civilians wounded, and the nearby city of Khamis Mushait, which houses a major airbase, the coalition said in a statement released by Saudi state media.

“The royal Saudi air defense force and air force successfully intercepted and destroyed five unmanned drone aircraft launched by Houthi militia towards Abha international airport and Khamis Mushait,” the statement said.

The airport was operating normally with no fights disrupted, the statement added.

Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV reported earlier that the Iran-aligned rebels had carried out drone attacks on Abha Airport.

A picture taken during a guided tour with the Saudi military on June 13, 2019 shows passengers waiting for their flight at Abha airport in the popular mountain resort of the same name in the southwest of Saudi Arabia, one day after a Yemeni rebel missile attack on the civil airport wounded 26 civilians. (Fayez Nureldine / AFP)

The rebels, who have faced persistent coalition bombing since March 2015 that has exacted a heavy civilian death toll, have stepped up missile and drone attacks across the border in recent weeks.

Wednesday’s missile strike hit the civil airport in the mountain resort of Abha, which is a popular summer getaway for Saudis seeking escape from the searing heat of Riyadh or Jeddah.

During a media tour of the airport on Thursday, Saudi authorities said they had closed a part of the its arrival lounge after the missile tore a hole in the roof and disrupted flights for several hours.

The area was covered in bamboo scaffolding and littered with concrete debris and shards of broken glass, AFP saw.

A picture taken during a guided tour with the Saudi military on June 13, 2019 shows the damage on the roof of Abha airport in the popular mountain resort of the same name in the southwest of Saudi Arabia, one day after a Yemeni rebel missile attack on the civil airport wounded 26 civilians. (Fayez Nureldine / AFP)

Two passengers who suffered mild injuries recalled pandemonium and screams after a loud explosion triggered a blaze, leaving the lounge covered in smoke.

A Saudi civil aviation official said authorities were still investigating rebel claims that they fired a cruise missile at the airport.

Illustrative: The remains of an Iranian Qasef-1 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, used as a one-way attack UAV to dive on targets and then detonating its warhead, which was fired by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels into Saudi Arabia, according to then-US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley during a press briefing at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, December 14, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

If confirmed that would represent a major leap in the rebels’ military capability, experts say.

The coalition intervened in support of the Yemeni government in 2015 when President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi fled into Saudi exile as the rebels closed in on his last remaining territory in and around second city Aden.

Since then, the conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, many of them civilians, relief agencies say.

It has triggered what the UN describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 24.1 million Yemenis — more than two-thirds of the population — in need of aid.

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