RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia faced a flurry of attempted attacks by Yemen’s rebels on Wednesday, with the kingdom’s defense forces saying they intercepted missiles that targeted Riyadh and another city, and drones targeting an airport and an Aramco oil facility in the country’s south.
The attacks underscore how the Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, continue to retain a range of potentially lethal and disruptive ways to hit the kingdom, despite more than three years of devastating Saudi airstrikes on Yemen to try and roll back Houthi control of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, and other northern strongholds.
The strikes by the rebels in neighboring Yemen came just days before Saudi Arabia is to host heads of state and dignitaries for the annual Arab League summit, which will be held this year in the eastern Saudi city of Dammam. The location may have been selected by the kingdom to avoid Houthi missile strikes during Sunday’s summit.
Saudi state-run TV channel al-Ekhbariya carried an official statement saying the kingdom’s defense forces intercepted missiles fired at Riyadh and the southern city of Jizan.
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The Houthi-run al-Masirah TV channel said the ballistic missiles targeted the Saudi Defense Ministry in Riyadh, among other targets in the kingdom’s capital.
An Associated Press reporter in Riyadh heard three loud explosions overhead just before sunset Wednesday. Other residents of the capital posted on social media similar accounts of hearing loud explosions and seeing smoke in the sky from the possible missile interception.
Saudi forces said they also destroyed two Houthi drones targeting the cities of Jizan and the airport in Abha, also near the border with Yemen.
Saudi officials said flights were temporarily suspended at Abha airport in line with safety procedures. At least one Saudi media outlet reported a drone crash at the airport had injured two airport workers.
The kingdom and its allies, with support from the United States, have been at war in Yemen since March 2015. More than 10,000 Yemenis have died in the conflict and millions in the impoverished country have been pushed to the brink of famine.
Saudi coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki accused rival Iran of being behind Wednesday’s attacks. He has previously warned that Saudi Arabia reserves the right to respond against Iran. Iran denies arming the rebels.
Al-Masirah TV said the Houthis used a Qasef-1 drone to disrupt air traffic at Abha airport and to target a Saudi Aramco facility in Jizan in response to what it described as “Saudi-American crimes against Yemenis.”
The Houthis last year unveiled the Qasef-1 drone, along with three other new types of drones used for surveillance and attack, claiming they were indigenously made.
Evidence documented by the Conflict Armament Research group, or CAR, said the Qasef-1 drone appears to be Iranian-manufactured and has been supplied in batches to Houthi forces in Yemen. The Houthis and their allies have used the drones to disable Patriot missile defense systems deployed by Saudi-led forces in Yemen, said CAR.
A week ago, Saudi air defense forces said they shot down a missile fired by the Houthis at the Aramco refinery in Jizan. Earlier this month, the coalition said the rebels attacked a Saudi oil tanker in the Red Sea, causing “minor damage” to the ship.
A missile fragment last month killed an Egyptian resident of Riyadh — the first death reported in the capital as a result of the missile strikes. While missile strikes against Riyadh are growing in frequency, the Houthis have more often targeted southern Saudi border cities and towns.
Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.