A Saudi-led coalition has launched air attacks on Iran-allied Houthi forces in Yemen’s capital Sanaa, Saudi state television reported early on Saturday, part of an escalation of tit-for-tat attacks that has stoked regional tensions.
The raids hit air-defence systems and other military positions in the Houthi-controlled city, days after the Houthis launched a missile attack on a Saudi airport, according to the TV report.
No casualties were reported. Houthi forces have yet to comment on Saturday’s reports.
The Western-backed coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been battling the Houthis in Yemen since 2015 to restore the internationally recognised government that was forced out of Sanaa by the Houthis.
The Houthis have stepped up drone and missile attacks on cities in neighbouring Saudi Arabia in recent months as tensions have risen between Iran and Gulf Arab states allied with the United Statesfurther afield across the Middle East.
The Yemen conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. But the Houthis have denied taking any orders from Tehran and say they took up arms to fight corruption.
Yemen’s civil war has killed more than 10,000 people and pushed the impoverished country to the verge of famine, the United Nations and aid agencies have said.
Saudi authorities say the Houthi attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abha airport on Wednesday wounded 26 people. On Friday, the kingdom’s air defence forces said they intercepted five Houthi drones launched at Abha airport and the southern city of Khamis Mushait.
The rebels said they had the right to defend themselves in the face of five years of Saudi-UAE bombing and an air and sea blockade.
The Houthi forces’ spokesman had issued a warning on Friday to airlines and civilians to avoid Saudi airports and military sites threatening further raids.
“We tell the Saudi regime that our operations against airports and military sites will continue as long as Saudi aggression against our country continues.
“We also call on airline companies and civilians to stay away from airports and military sites as they have become legitimate targets,” spokesman Yahya Sariee said in a Facebook post.
The escalation came after Saudi air defence forces said they intercepted two drones targeting the city of Khamis Mushait on Monday and had shot down a bomb-laden drone deployed by Houthi rebels that targeted Jizan airport last month.
Campaign group Human Rights Watch had condemned that attack. “Unlawful Saudi-led coalition air strikes in Yemen never justify Houthi attacks on Saudi civilians,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at HRW.
The escalation in violence could threaten a fragile UN-led peace initiative in Yemen’s main port city of Hodeidah, which handles the bulk of the impoverished country’s commercial and aid imports and is a lifeline for millions of Yemenis.