SANAA: Shiite Muslim supporters of the Iran-backed Houthi rebels gather to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Shiite Imam Zaid Bin Ali in the Houthi-held Yemeni capital Sanaa. – AFP

RIYADH: Two children were hurt and 14 homes damaged as Saudi forces intercepted ballistic missiles fired across the border by Yemeni rebels, scattering debris over the eastern city of Dammam, officials said yesterday. The attack, which took place on Saturday, was the latest in a series by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels who control almost all of Yemen’s north. Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen’s war on behalf of the internationally recognized government in 2015, shortly after the Houthis seized the capital Sanaa.

“Saudi Air Defense has intercepted and destroyed (3) ballistic missiles and (3) bomb-laden drones launched by the Iran-backed Houthi militia,” spokesperson Brigadier General Turki Al-Maliki said in a statement, calling it “brutal, irresponsible behavior” by the Yemeni rebels. A spokesperson at the defense ministry yesterday said that two children were wounded and 14 homes damaged after debris from the interception scattered across Dammam. It was not clear how serious the reported injuries were.

Houthis say Aramco targeted
Saudi authorities said the ballistic missiles were targeting civilians in the Eastern Province – where Dammam is located – and the southern cities of Najran and Jazan. Houthi spokesman Yahya Saree said in a video statement that the rebels launched a series of missile and drone attacks on “vital installations”, including military bases and facilities of Saudi oil giant Aramco. A Saudi official told AFP that the rebel claims were “baseless”. No immediate comment was available from Aramco.

Eastern Saudi Arabia is home to major oil infrastructure. A previous attack in September 2019 temporarily halted half of the kingdom’s oil production. The Saudi-led coalition fighting the rebels in Yemen told state-run television it would take “strict measures” to protect civilians. In August, the rebels escalated cross-border operations using unmanned aerial vehicles and missiles. Saturday’s interception comes four days after a drone hit Abha International Airport in the south, wounding eight people and damaging a civilian plane.

It also came just a few hours before Hans Grundberg, the UN’s new envoy for Yemen, assumed his duties on Sunday. Yemen’s grinding conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions, resulting in what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. While the UN is pushing for an end to the war, the Houthis have demanded the reopening of Sanaa airport, closed under a Saudi blockade since 2016, before any ceasefire or negotiations. – AFP