JEDDAH: A manager at a Saudi Aramco oil facility gestures while standing near a damaged oil tank at the plant yesterday. – AFP

JEDDAH: Saudi Aramco said yesterday that a strike by Yemeni rebels on its plant in Jeddah tore a hole in an oil tank, triggering an explosion and fire in another assault on the kingdom’s energy infrastructure. The Iran-backed Houthi rebels said they struck the facility in the Red Sea city on Monday with a Quds-2 missile, as they step up attacks in retaliation for a five-year military campaign led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

The latest strike, which underscores the vulnerability of Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure, comes just over a year after aerial assaults on two other Aramco facilities temporarily knocked out half of the kingdom’s crude production. Aramco granted foreign media rare access to the Jeddah distribution facility where damage to the storage tank was visible a day after the attack, with the top rim fire-blackened and railings above buckled from the heat.

The roof of the tank suffered “major damage”, with a hole measuring two square meters, said Abdullah Al-Ghamdi, manager of the North Jeddah Bulk Plant. “It was a big fire; it was a big explosion,” Ghamdi said, adding the blaze was extinguished within 40 minutes and no casualties were reported. The manager said distribution from the plant, which provides refined products including jet fuel to the country’s west, was restored within three hours even though the damaged tank – one of 13 – remained out of action.

Mangled and charred metal debris was put on display near the damaged tank, with company officials saying it would be forensically examined. Aramco was still assessing the cost of the damage and it was unclear how long the repairs would take, Ghamdi said.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned the Jeddah attack, saying it contradicted the rebels’ claim that they were serious about ending the conflict. “With Yemen at risk of famine, the Houthis must cease their aggression and work with the UN to achieve peace,” Raab wrote on Twitter.

Saudi Arabia has been targeted with dozens of ballistic missile and drone attacks since the start of last year. Ghamdi likened Monday’s incident to the Sept 2019 assault on the Abqaiq processing plant and Khurais oil field in the kingdom’s east, which caused turmoil on global energy markets as it temporarily halved the kingdom’s crude output. Washington and Riyadh held Iran responsible for that attack.

“What happened yesterday was another hostile attack, similar to what happened at Khurais and Abqaiq,” Ghamdi said. “However, this will only demonstrate that Aramco’s resilience to such (a) hostile attack will remain, and demonstrate the reliability of our energy supply” within and outside the kingdom, he added.

Houthi missiles and drones have mostly targeted Saudi Arabia’s southern provinces along their shared border, many of which the kingdom claims to have successfully intercepted. But the attack on Jeddah, which lies some 600 km from the frontier, is an indication of the rebels’ advancing arsenal.

The latest attack occurred as the United States deliberates tagging the rebels a “terrorist organization”, a move that has drawn concern from humanitarian agencies who say it could cripple aid delivery and tip the country into famine. Yemeni Information Minister Moammar Al-Eryani said the targeting of Aramco was a “full-fledged war crime”, adding it underlined the need for the Houthis to be designated as a terrorist organization. – AFP