Saudi Arabia said it foiled a Houthi drone attack on an airport on Saturday just days before the new US administration is to stop designating the Yemeni rebels as a “terror” group.
Saudi air defences “intercepted and destroyed a drone rigged with explosives which had been launched by the Houthis against Abha airport” in southwestern Saudi Arabia, the Saudi-led coalition fighting the rebels said in a statement.
The Houthis confirmed Saturday’s attack on the airport.
“The Air Force carried out an attack on an important target at Abha International Airport. The attack hit its target with high accuracy,” a military spokesman for the rebel group, Yehia Serae, said on Twitter, without giving details.
On Saturday- afternoon, in retaliation to the aggression raids, its military escalation and its ongoing siege on our Yemeni people, the Air Force carried out an attack on an important target at Abha International Airport . The attack hit its target with high accuracy.
— Yahya Sare'e (@Yahya_Saree) February 13, 2021
Abha airport was targeted in a separate attack by the rebels on Wednesday, when a drone attack left a civilian aircraft ablaze.
The Houthis say the airport, little more than 100km (60 miles) from the border with Yemen, is a legitimate target as it has been used as a base for the coalition’s widely condemned bombing campaign in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia and its allies say that Houthi attacks on the airport amount to “war crimes” as the airport is heavily used by Saudis enjoying the milder climate of the mountains around Abha.
Wednesday’s drone attack followed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s announcement that he would lift the “terror” group designation of the Houthis imposed by his predecessor Mike Pompeo.
The designation had been widely criticised by aid organisations, who warned it would hamper their efforts to alleviate what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Despite nearly six years of Saudi Arabia-led military operations, the Houthis remain in control of the Yemeni capital Sanaa and much of the north, and aid groups say they have little choice but to work with them.
The State Department condemned Wednesday’s attack on the airport but Blinken said the “terror” group designation of the Houthi movement would still be lifted as planned on Tuesday.
He said sanctions on individual Houthi leaders would remain in place.
“The United States remains clear-eyed about Ansarullah’s malign actions and aggression,” Blinken said, referring to the Houthi movement by its formal name.