The Saudi-led coalition engaged in Yemen has said its forces intercepted and downed drones launched by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement towards the Saudi border city of Najran in the first such incident since late March.
There was no immediate comment from the Houthi group about the attack, which comes after the expiry of a one-month ceasefire announced by the coalition on April 24 – an extension of a two-week truce prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said in a statement carried by the Saudi state news agency on Wednesday that the drones were directed at civilian targets. He said the alliance would continue to take deterrent measures to “neutralise and destroy” Houthi capabilities.
In late March, after the Houthis fired drones and missiles towards the Saudi capital Riyadh and southern parts of the kingdom, which were intercepted, the coalition responded with several air raids on the Houthi-held capital, Sanaa.
There had been a relative lull in violence since the ceasefire was first declared, with the exception of fighting in Yemen’s Al-Jawf and Marib provinces.
With the recent escalation in fighting in Yemen, more than 40,000 people have been displaced since January, adding to the roughly 3.6 million who have fled their homes since the war began.
A number of those fleeing, including women and children, escaped on foot, walking for days without food or water across open desert, according to a recent statement by the United Nations refugee agency.
The Western-backed coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognised government to power in Sanaa after it was removed from the capital by the Houthis in late 2014.
The war has been in a military impasse for years and UN-led peace efforts have stalled since late 2018. The conflict has killed tens of thousands, triggering what the UN has termed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Fighting has continued despite repeated calls for a ceasefire as part of global efforts to combat coronavirus, which is spreading in Yemen, with its broken healthcare system struggling to cope with the pandemic.
Last week, international medical charity Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) warned that six years of war had wrecked Yemen’s health system and left it facing a “catastrophe” from the pandemic.
As of May 25, officials in Yemen reported 222 confirmed infections and 42 related deaths. But the real numbers are hard to establish due to the country’s extremely limited testing capacity.
According to data compiled by the International Rescue Committee, Yemen has one of the world’s lowest testing rates, even compared with other conflict-hit countries, at just 31 tests per million citizens.
In a statement on May 14, Save the Children said nearly 400 people in Aden were reported to have died of coronavirus-like symptoms in just one week.
The international charity warned that several hospitals in the city had shut down and medical staff were refusing to go to work for lack of proper personal protective equipment (PPE).