Aircraft belonging to a Saudi-Emirati military coalition fighting Yemen‘s Houthi rebels have launched air raids on Hodeidah, a city hosting a strategically important seaport which is the main entry point for most of the war-ravaged country’s food aid.
The Houthi-run al-Masirah TV said in a series of tweets on Friday that coalition air strikes had targeted a radio station inside the Red Sea city and a fishing pier. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
According to the al-Masirah television channel, the Sammad-3 drone launched three attacks on Abu Dhabi’s international airport.
Abu Dhabi airport tweeted on Thursday that there had been an incident involving a supply vehicle but added that operations were not affected.
It was unclear if it was related to the reported drone attack.
A Houthi military source said the armed drone flew 1,500km before it reached Abu Dhabi’s airport.
General Abdullah al-Jafri, a spokesman for the Houthis, said the drone attack showed the movement was capable of launching attacks against vital civilian infrastructure of the Saudi-Emirati-led military coalition.
“Our attack on Abu Dhabi airport shows our forces are no paper tiger like our enemies claim,” Jafri told al-Masirah TV on the phone.
An unidentified UAE official told Reuters news agency that the attack did not occur.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, defence expert Andreas Krieg said it is difficult to establish what might have happened as both sides “have a long track record of not telling the truth”.
“If you look through social media and if you look through the evidence that’s out there, whatever the Houthis have provided is fake – these are photoshopped images which have nothing to do with the reality in Abu Dhabi,” Krieg said on Friday.
“Equally, the UAE haven’t done enough to provide evidence that it [the attack] did not happen or to provide an explanation that somewhat logically and credibly explains the disruption of flights yesterday,” he added, noting that the UAE is renowned for being “very secretive about what’s going on in their country” and for having “quite good control of their social media domestically”.
Krieg noted, however, that the large distance and the size of the drone raised questions about whether the rebels’ claim was valid.
“The distance between a potential control centre of the Houthis in Yemen to the Abu Dhabi is around 1,300-1,500km depending on where you measure,” he said.
“The Sammad-3 is quite an extensive drone … so having such a huge vehicle penetrating the airspace quite deeply and then thinking that the air defence system wouldn’t issue a warning and pick it up before it actually reaches a critical infrastructure such as the Abu Dhabi airport seems to be very unlikely.”
Hodeidah has been under the control of the Houthis since 2014, along with other west coast ports and much of northern Yemen.
The city’s seaport was responsible for delivering 70 percent of Yemen’s imports – mostly humanitarian aid, food and fuel – pre-2015. Yet, the Saudis say that the Houthis, who reportedly generate $30m to $40m a month in revenue from the port, are using it to smuggle in weapons from Iran.
The war in Yemen, the region’s poorest country, started in 2014 after the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels seized control of the capital, Sanaa, and began pushing south towards the country’s third-biggest city Aden.
Concerned by the rise of the Houthi rebels, Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab states launched a military offensive in 2015 in the form of a massive air campaign aimed at reinstalling the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Since then, more than 10,000 people have been killed and at least 40,000 wounded, mostly from Saudi-led air strikes.
In retaliation, the Houthis have launched dozens of missiles at the kingdom. Saudi authorities say over the past three years 90 ballistic missiles were fired by the rebels.
Multiple rounds of United Nations-brokered peace talks have all failed to achieve any breakthrough.