'12 hurt' in Yemen rebel drone attack on Saudi airport

'12 hurt' in Yemen rebel drone attack on Saudi airport
(FILES) This file photo taken on August 31, 2021 shows the entrance of Saudi Arabia's Abha airport in the popular mountain resort of Abha in the southwest of the country. (Photo: AFP)
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia — Twelve people were injured by falling debris Thursday as the Saudi military blew up a Yemeni rebel "bomb-laden" drone targeting an airport close to the border, officials said.اضافة اعلان

Fragments fell to the ground after the interception of the drone over Abha International Airport, which has previously been targeted in similar assaults by the Iran-backed insurgents.

The Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they had targeted an airport "used for military action against Yemen" and warning citizens to "stay away" from such sites.

The United States was quick to condemn the attack, and pledged to work with Saudi Arabia to hold the Houthis "accountable”.

Yemen's Houthis, fighting a Saudi-led coalition since 2015, have frequently launched drone attacks at targets in the kingdom, including airports and oil installations.

In recent weeks, the Houthis also launched deadly cross-border attacks for the first time against fellow coalition member the United Arab Emirates, after suffering a series of battlefield defeats at the hands of UAE-trained pro-government forces.

The spokesman of the Saudi-led coalition, Brigadier General Turki al-Malki, said, "Saudi air defenses thwarted an attempt to deliberately and systematically target traveling civilians and staff at Abha International Airport by the terrorist, Iran-backed Houthi militia using a bomb-laden drone.”

Twelve civilians were injured from flying debris, including individuals from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines, he added in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. Two Saudi citizens were among those hurt.

- 'War crime' -

In response, the Saudi-led coalition said it would strike positions from which the Houthis launch drones in Sanaa, the rebel-held capital of Yemen.
"We ask civilians in Sanaa to evacuate civilian sites used for military purposes for the next 72 hours," it said, quoted by SPA.

Malki said Abha was a "civilian airport that is protected under international humanitarian law" and accused the rebels of a "war crime”.

President Joe Biden's national security advisor Jake Sullivan said the "United States strongly condemns today's terrorist attack.”

On Wednesday, Biden reaffirmed in a phone call with Saudi King Salman the "US commitment to support Saudi Arabia in the defense of its people and territory" from Houthi attacks.

Border provinces of Saudi Arabia have come under frequent drone or missile attacks by the rebels, in what the Houthis say is retaliation for a deadly bombing campaign carried out by coalition aircraft.

Most Houthi projectiles have been safely intercepted by Saudi air defenses, but in late December, an attack on Jizan province on the Red Sea coast killed two people and left seven wounded.

In December, the coalition said the Houthis had fired more than 400 ballistic missiles and launched over 850 attack drones at Saudi Arabia in the past seven years, killing a total of 59 civilians.

- UAE on alert -
The UAE has also been on alert since a drone and missile attack killed three oil workers in Abu Dhabi on January 17.

The attack was the first deadly assault on the UAE claimed by the Houthis, opening a new phase in the Yemeni war and puncturing the Gulf state's image as a regional safe haven.

The UAE-trained Giants Brigades have inflicted heavy losses on the Houthis this year, disrupting their efforts to seize Marib city, the government's last major stronghold in the rebel-dominated north.

Yemen's civil war broke out in 2014 when the Houthis seized Sanaa, prompting the Saudi-led coalition to intervene the following year to prop up the internationally recognized government.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed directly or indirectly in the conflict, while millions have been displaced in what the UN calls the world's biggest humanitarian crisis.

On Thursday, the Norwegian Refugee Council said civilian deaths and injuries in the war have almost doubled since UN human rights monitors were controversially removed in October.

"The removal of this crucial human rights investigative body took us back to unchecked, horrific violations," NRC's Yemen country director Erin Hutchinson said.

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