26 wounded in Yemeni rebel missile strike in Saudi Arabia

Civilians hit in attack on airport

A picture taken on June 12, 2019 shows the entrance of Abha airport in southwestern Saudi Arabia's mountainous resort.
A picture taken on June 12, 2019 shows the entrance of Abha airport in southwestern Saudi Arabia's mountainous resort.
Image: AFP

A Yemeni rebel missile attack on an airport in southwestern Saudi Arabia wounded 26 civilians on Wednesday, drawing promises of stern action from the Saudi-led coalition fighting the rebels.

Yemen’s Huthi rebels, who have faced persistent coalition bombing since March 2015 that has exacted a heavy civilian death toll, have stepped up missile and drone attacks across the border in recent weeks.

Wednesday’s missile strike hit the civil airport in the mountain resort of Abha, which is a popular summer getaway for Saudis seeking escape from the searing heat of Riyadh or Jeddah.

Eight of the wounded had been admitted to hospital, coalition spokesperson Turki al-Malki said.

The other 18 had been discharged after receiving first aid.

The missile caused some damage to the airport’s arrivals lounge and flights were disrupted for several hours before returning to normal.

Al-Malki said at least one Indian was among three women wounded along with two Saudi children.

He said the strike on the airport amounted to a terrorist attack on a civilian target which could be considered a war crime.

Al-Malki said the coalition would take stern action to protect civilians.

The rebels confirmed they had launched a missile at the Abha airport, but insisted they had the right to defend themselves in the face of years of Saudi-led bombing and air and sea blockades.

“The continuation of the aggression and siege on Yemen for the fifth year, the closure of Sanaa airport and the rejection of a political solution make it inevitable for our people to defend themselves,” Huthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdulsalam said in a statement reported by the rebels’ AlMasirah television.

There has been a spate of cross-border attacks by the rebels in recent weeks which have coincided with reports of intensified coalition strikes on rebel strongholds on the other side of the border.

On Monday, Saudi air defences intercepted two rebel drones headed for Khamis Mushait.

The city, not far east of Abha, houses a major airbase that has been one of the main launchpads for the coalition’s bombing campaign in Yemen.

In May, the Saudi air force shot down a rebel drone that targeted Jizan airport, on the Red Sea coast close to the Yemeni border, the coalition said.

The rebel attacks come as Saudi state media reported the coalition was intensifying its air raids on rebel positions in the northern Yemeni province of Hajjah.

In May, the rebels also carried out twin drone attacks on the kingdom’s strategic eastwest oil pipeline, forcing a twoday closure of the main diversionary route for Saudi exports avoiding the Gulf.

Riyadh accused its regional arch foe Iran of having a hand in that attack and it made a similar allegation over the airport strike.

The coalition spokesperson said the missile hit “proves this terrorist militia’s acquisition of new advanced weapons and the continuation of the Iranian regime’s support and waging of cross-border terrorism”.

The uptick in violence comes as a UN-led peace push falters despite the rebels’ unilateral withdrawal from the lifeline Red Sea port of Hodeida in May.

The Yemeni government has accused UN envoy Martin Griffiths of bias towards the rebels despite the Security Council’s renewed support of him on Monday.