A Saudi-led coalition battling the Houthi rebels has said the Yemeni group launched an attack on Abha airport, causing a fire in a civilian aircraft that was brought under control.
“A cowardly terrorist attack by the Houthi militia on Abha International Airport … A civilian plane within the airport grounds was exposed to a fire which was brought under control,” Saudi state-run Al-Ekhbariya television cited the coalition as saying on Wednesday.
The Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack soon afterwards, with military spokesman Yehia Sareai saying the rebels used four bomb-laden drones to target the airport in southern Saudi Arabia.
“This targeting comes in response to the continued aerial bombardment and the brutal siege on our country,” Sareai said, noting that the Houthis consider the airport a military and not civilian target.
Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Maliki said the forces intercepted two bomb-laden drones launched by the Houthis towards the kingdom. He condemned the assault as a “systematic and deliberate attempt to target civilians in the southern region” of the country.
The conflict in Yemen started in 2014 when the Houthis seized large swaths of the country, including the capital, Sanaa.
The war escalated in March 2015, when the Saudi Arabia-led coalition intervened in an attempt to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Both sides in Yemen’s conflict have since been accused of war crimes during fighting that has killed tens of thousands of people.
In recent years, the Houthis have repeatedly used ballistic missiles and drones to target international airports, along with military installations and critical oil infrastructure, within Saudi Arabia. Those attacks, often focused on the southern cities of Abha and Jizan, have wounded dozens and killed at least one person.
In November 2017, the Houthis even reached the international airport in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, located deep inside the kingdom and some 1,000km (620 miles) north of the border with Yemen … No one was hurt in the attack, which marked the first time that a Houthi missile had come so close to a heavily populated centre.
Saudi officials later blamed Iran for providing the missile to the Houthis used in that and other attacks on the kingdom amid its grinding, yearslong war against the rebels. Tehran long has denied providing arms to the Houthis, though evidence and United Nations expert reports show weapons linking back to Iran.
Wednesday’s attack came less than a week after the United States State Department said it had formally notified Congress of its intention to revoke a “terrorist” designation against the rebels, which had been announced at the end of the administration of former President Donald Trump.
Humanitarian groups were deeply opposed to the designation, saying it jeopardised their operations in a country where the majority of people rely on aid, and that they have no choice but to deal with the Houthis, who control much of the north.
New US President Joe Biden had on Thursday also announced an end to US support for Saudi-led offensive operations in Yemen.