Yemen’s Houthi rebels say they have carried out their largest-ever military operation against neighbouring Saudi Arabia, targeting the defence ministry and a military base in the kingdom’s capital, Riyadh.
Their announcement on Tuesday came after a Saudi-led military coalition battling the rebels in Yemen said it had intercepted and destroyed missiles and drones fired from the Yemeni capital of Sanaa.
“A large number of winged ballistic missiles and drones targeted the capital of the Saudi enemy … pounding military headquarters and centres including the defence and intelligence ministry and [King] Salman Air Base,” Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea said in a televised speech.
The Houthis said they had also targeted military sites in other cities including Jazan and Najran in the south, close to the border with Yemen.
There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.
Earlier, Saudi-led coalition spokesman Turki al-Malki was quoted by the official Saudi Press Agency as saying: “Joint coalition forces managed … to intercept and destroy a ballistic missile launched by the terrorist Houthi militia from Sanaa towards Riyadh in a deliberate hostile operation.”
The coalition said it had also brought down “eight booby-trapped unmanned aircraft to target civilian objects and civilians in the kingdom”, as well as “three ballistic missiles from Saada governorate towards the kingdom”.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Mamoun Abu-Nowar – a retired Jordanian air force general – said the latest developments were reason enough to make Saudi Arabia insecure about its military prowess – despite Riyadh’s claims of intercepting missiles.
“Reaching Riyadh with that accuracy and targeting the ministry of defence and some other military [base] is a big escalation because the Houthis are winning now in Jawf and some parts in Yemen,” he said, speaking from Amman.
“This makes the Saudis insecure and unstable for any investment in the future and it’s a big threat for the Saudi defence air system which I feel is a bit weak to intercept such missiles,” he continued. “They need the THAD [Terminal High Altitude Area Defence] system which intercepts missiles beyond the atmosphere.”
The attack came after Saudi Arabia announced on Monday that Yemen’s southern separatists – backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the country’s internationally-recognised government – agreed to a ceasefire after months of infighting.
The agreement aims to close the rift between the two former allies in the war against the Houthis.
Yemen has been locked in conflict since 2014 when the Houthis took control of Sanaa, and went on to seize much of the north.
Fighting escalated in March 2015 when the Saudi-UAE-led military coalition intervened to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Saudi Arabia was targeted with dozens of attacks using ballistic missiles or drones last year, including a devastating raid on oil giant Aramco’s facilities that temporarily knocked out half the kingdom’s crude output.
The long-running war has killed tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, and forced millions from their homes in what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.