June 23, 2020 / 8:41 AM / 14 days ago

Yemen's Houthis reach Saudi capital with missiles for first time since COVID ceasefire

RIYADH (Reuters) - Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement fired missiles that reached the Saudi capital on Tuesday, the first such attack since a ceasefire put in place during the coronavirus epidemic expired last month.

Two large explosions could be heard in Riyadh near dawn and smoke billowed into the sky. The Houthis said they had hit the Saudi defence ministry and a military base, while a Saudi-led military coalition said it had shot a missile down, making no reference to targets.

There was no sign of damage to the side of the defence ministry building that is visible from the main road or to any surrounding buildings. The area was quiet on Tuesday evening, with normal traffic flows and no additional security measures.

The Houthis have repeatedly fired on Saudi Arabia during the conflict, but had not targeted Riyadh since late March, when Saudi Arabia said it shot down a missile and two residents were injured by falling debris in the capital.

Violence between the two sides has surged after the expiry last month of the six-week ceasefire prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Saudi-led coalition, which has fought the Houthis for more than five years in a war that has pushed millions of Yemenis to the brink of famine, has typically responded to Houthi attacks with air strikes.

Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea said in a televised speech that the group fired several missiles and drones, which “pounded” military headquarters and centres in Riyadh, including the defence ministry and King Salman Air Base.

Sarea said attacks were also launched against military sites in the southern Saudi cities of Najran and Jizan.

Reuters was not immediately able to confirm whether any targets were hit in Riyadh. Saudi-led coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said in a statement that the attack on Riyadh was a “deliberate hostile action designed to target civilians”. The coalition had also shot down three missiles headed towards Najran and Jizan and a number of drones, he said.

He did not respond to a Reuters request for comment on the targets in Riyadh identified by the Houthis.

CLASHES BETWEEN GOVERNMENT, SEPARATISTS

In southern Yemen, clashes erupted between forces of the Saudi-backed government and southern separatists, factions in the anti-Houthi coalition who have turned on each other, despite a truce between them brokered by Riyadh on Monday.

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders said its trauma hospital in the southern port of Aden received more than 20 patients on Tuesday injured in shelling in nearby Abyan province.

“Fighting continues in Yemen alongside a deadly outbreak of COVID19,” it tweeted.

The coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Houthis ousted the Saudi-backed government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014. The conflict is largely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Additional reporting by Maher Chmaytelli, Aziz El Yaakoubi and Mohammed Mokhashef; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Peter Graff, Clarence Fernandez, William Maclean, Alexandra Hudson

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