Iran-aligned militia steps up attacks on the kingdom

RIYADH: Saudi air defense forces have intercepted two drones launched by Houthi rebels from neighboring Yemen, state media reported, as the Iran-aligned militia steps up attacks on the kingdom. The drones targeted Khamis Mushait in the kingdom’s south and caused no damage or casualties, the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said in a brief statement released yesterday by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).
The rebels said earlier via their news outlet Al-Masirah that they had targeted the King Khalid airbase near Khamis Mushait. The attacks come as SPA reported the coalition was intensifying air raids on Houthi positions in the northern Yemeni province of Hajjah. The rebels have stepped up drone and missile attacks on the kingdom amid tensions between Shiite power Iran and the United States, Saudi Arabia’s main ally.


Last month, the Saudi air force shot down a bomb-laden drone deployed by Houthi rebels that targeted Jizan airport, close to the southern border with Yemen, the coalition said. The airport is used by thousands of civilians every day, but the coalition reported no casualties and warned the rebels of a strong response.


The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to push back an advance by the Houthi rebels, who still hold the capital Sanaa, and to restore to power President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi. 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-more than two-thirds of the population-in need of aid.


Embattled Yemen envoy

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council on Monday expressed full support for the UN envoy for Yemen after he came under sharp criticism from Yemen’s president. The dispute threatened to derail fragile efforts to implement a ceasefire truce agreed in December in Sweden. In a statement, council members “underlined their full support” for envoy Martin Griffiths and “called on the parties to engage constructively and continuously” with him.


The statement followed talks in Riyadh between UN political chief Rosemary DiCarlo with the Saudi foreign minister and with President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, the Saudi-backed leader of Yemen, to try to defuse the row. Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Assaf and Abdel Aziz Hamad Aluwaisheg from the Gulf Cooperation Council “both expressed their support for the work of the United Nations in Yemen and for the efforts of the special envoy,” said UN spokesperson Eri Kaneko.
DiCarlo, the UN undersecretary general for political affairs, also held “productive” talks with Hadi, a UN statement said, without providing details. The UN Security Council is due to discuss Yemen on June 17. Hadi has accused Griffiths of siding with the Houthi rebels, telling UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a letter last month that he “can no longer accept these offenses” by the envoy. The president has taken issue with Griffiths over the rebel handover last month of ports to a “coast guard” that the government says is in fact rebel fighters in different uniforms. Successive UN envoys to Yemen have grappled with disagreements from both sides in their efforts to end the devastating war.


British diplomat Griffiths was appointed in February 2018, replacing Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed of Mauritania after the Houthis broke off ties with him. His predecessor, Jamal Benomar, quit in 2015 after a Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen to push back the Iran-aligned Houthis, who continue to hold the capital, Sanaa. The conflict, which has killed tens of thousands of people, has had a devastating toll on civilians and triggered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations.- Agencies