Nearly a week after claiming drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities, Yemen’s rebels say will stop targeting the kingdom.
Yemen’s Houthi movement has said it carried out an attack near the border with the southwestern Saudi region of Najran and captured “thousands” of enemy troops including several Saudi army officers but there was no immediate confirmation from the authorities in Saudi Arabia.
A spokesman for the Yemen-based rebels said in a statement on Saturday that three “enemy military brigades had fallen” in the attack, which he said was launched 72 hours earlier in the vicinity of Najran and was supported by the group’s drone, missile and air defence units.
Houthi-run Al Masirah TV quoted the spokesman as saying they captured “thousands” of enemy troops, including many officers and soldiers of the Saudi army, as well as “hundreds of armoured vehicles”.
The Houthi military spokesperson said the operation reveals to Saudi Arabia that the Yemeni fighters are capable of further penetrating into Saudi territories “in case it continues its aggression against Yemen”.
Reporting from Sanaa, Al Jazeera’s Mohammed al-Attab said the Houthis claimed to have carried out “sniper shooting and other tactics in order to further tighten their grip on the three military brigades” claimed to have been captured.
“The Houthi military spokesperson revealed that those who have been captured will be put in undisclosed areas in order to protect them from Saudi airstrikes,” he said.
“They are assuring the families of the prisoners of war that they will be kept in a secret place in order to keep them safe from any harm.”
The Houthis, who control the northern part of Yemen, have recently stepped up their drone and missile attacks across the southern border of Saudi Arabia.
The rebels claimed responsibility for a September 14 assault on two facilities run by Saudi’s state oil company, Aramco.
The attack slashed Saudi Arabia’s crude oil output by half, accounting for about five percent of the world supply.
However, the United States, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany and the UK said Iran was behind the attacks, ratcheting up already heightened tensions in the region.
Nabeel Khoury, the former deputy chief of the US mission to Yemen, told Al Jazeera the Saudi-led coalition forces have repeatedly deployed troops across their southern border, posing a constant threat to the “Houthi heartland”.
The Houthi offensive appears to be “an attempt to take the military threat off of themselves,” he said.
Khoury said the offensive may be meant to show “that they [the Houthis] are capable of inflicting harm” after the Saudi-led coalition failed to respond to a peace offer made last week.
On September 20, Houthi officials said they would halt missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia if the alliance stopped its operations in Yemen.
“Militarily they [the Houthis] have close to 100,000 battle hardened soldiers, and they have demonstrated their power elsewhere,” he added.
Yemeni government troops, supported by coalition air strikes, have in recent months been fighting Houthi forces in the Kataf region of the northern Saada province near the Saudi border.
Local sources have said the Houthis had captured scores of Yemeni forces in the battles.
Five years of fighting
The war in Yemen broke out in 2014 with an offensive by the Houthis against the Yemeni government.
September 21 marked the fifth anniversary of the Houthis’ capture of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa.
The Saudi-led coalition, backed by the Western powers, intervened in the civil war in March 2015.
The conflict in Yemen has killed tens of thousands and left millions on the brink of famine, in what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The UN said both the Houthis and the opposing coalition may be guilty of war crimes.
The latest violence could hamper the UN efforts to ease tensions and pave the way for talks in the long-impoverished Arabian Peninsula nation.