Saudi airstrikes hit Yemen’s Houthis after oil depot attack

A Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen has unleashed a barrage of airstrikes on the capital and a strategic Red Sea town, officials said on Saturday. At least seven people were killed.

The nightly airstrikes on Sanaa and Hodeida – both held by the Houthis – came a day after the rebels attacked an oil depot in the Saudi city of Jeddah, their most publicized assault against the kingdom yet.

Brig.-Gen. Turki al-Malki, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, said the strikes targeted “sources of threat” to Saudi Arabia, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

He said the coalition intercepted and destroyed two explosive-laden drones early on Saturday. He said the drones were launched from Houthi-held civilian oil installations in Hodeidah, urging civilians to stay away from oil installations in the city.

Footage leaked online showed flames and plumes of smoke over Sanaa and Hodeidah. Associated Press reporters in the Yemeni capital heard loud explosions that rocked residential buildings.

Fuel station among the targets

The Houthis said the coalition airstrikes hit a power plant, a fuel station and the state-run social insurance office in the capital.

A Houthi news office said an airstrike hit houses for Social Insurance Office guards, killing at least seven people and injuring three others, including women and children.

Houthi rebels are seen in Sanaa, Yemen, in November 2021. (Hani Mohammad/Associated Press)

The office shared footage it said showed the aftermath of the airstrike. It showed debris in the courtyard of a social insurance office with the shattered windows of a nearby multi-story building.

In Hodeidah, the Houthi media office said the coalition struck oil installations in violation of a 2018 ceasefire agreement that ended months of fighting in Hodeidah, which controls around 70% of the commercial and humanitarian imports from Yemen. The strikes also hit nearby Port Salif, also on the Red Sea.

Al-Malki, the coalition spokesman, was not immediately available to comment on the Houthis’ claims.

The escalation risks complicating efforts by the UN’s special envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, to reach a humanitarian truce during the holy month of Ramadan” in early April.

Smoke rises from a fire at Saudi Aramco’s oil storage facility after an attack in Jeddah on Friday. (Reuters)

It comes as the Gulf Cooperation Council plans to host the warring parties for talks later this month. The Houthis, however, dismissed Riyadh – the Saudi capital where the GCC is based – as a venue for talks, which are expected to include a range of Yemeni factions.

Yemen’s brutal war erupted in 2014 after the Houthis captured Sanaa. Months later, Saudi Arabia and its allies launched a devastating air campaign to dislodge the Houthis and restore the internationally recognized government.

The conflict has in recent years become a regional proxy war that has killed more than 150,000 people, including more than 14,500 civilians. It has also created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

Friday’s Houthi attack came ahead of a Formula One race in the kingdom on Sunday, raising concerns about Saudi Arabia’s ability to defend itself against Iran-backed rebels.

Jeddah hosts a Formula 1 race

Friday’s attack targeted the same fuel depot the Houthis had attacked in recent days – the North Jeddah bulk plant which sits just southeast of the city’s international airport and is a hub crucial for Muslim pilgrims to Mecca.

In Egypt, hundreds of passengers were stranded at Cairo International Airport after their flights to Jeddah were canceled due to the Houthi attack, airport officials said.

The kingdom’s flagship airline, Saudia, announced the cancellation of two flights on its website. The two had booked 456 passengers. A third canceled flight with 146 passengers was operated by low-cost Saudi airline Flynas.

Some passengers found seats on other flights to Saudi Arabia and others were booked into hotels near Cairo airport, according to Egyptian officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to brief the media.