Mis­siles fired from rebel-held Ye­men land near US de­stroyer

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Two mis­siles fired from rebel-held ter­ri­tory in Ye­men landed near an Amer­i­can de­stroyer pass­ing by in the Red Sea, the US Navy said yes­ter­day, the sec­ond such launch tar­get­ing ships in the cru­cial in­ter­na­tional wa­ter­way in re­cent days. The mis­sile launches Sun­day came as a bal­lis­tic mis­sile fired from Ye­men ap­par­ently tar­geted a Saudi air base near the Mus­lim holy city of Mecca, the deep­est strike yet into the king­dom by Shi­ite rebels and their al­lies.

Ye­men’s Shi­ite rebels known as Houthis and their al­lies of­fered no rea­son for the launches, though they came after a Saudiled airstrike tar­get­ing a funeral in Ye­men’s cap­i­tal killed over 140 peo­ple and wounded 525 on Satur­day. In a state­ment, the Navy said no Amer­i­can sailors were in­jured and no dam­age was done to the USS Ma­son, an Ar­leigh Burke class of guided mis­sile de­stroyer whose home port is Nor­folk, Vir­ginia. Lt Ian McCon­naughey, a spokesman for US Navy Forces Cen­tral Com­mand, said yes­ter­day that it’s un­clear if the USS Ma­son was specif­i­cally tar­geted, though the mis­siles were fired in its di­rec­tion over an hour’s time pe­riod, start­ing at around 7 pm.

An Amer­i­can de­fense of­fi­cial said the USS Ma­son used on­board de­fen­sive mea­sures after the first mis­sile was fired, but it wasn’t clear if that caused the mis­sile to splash harm­lessly into the sea. The de­stroyer at the time of the mis­sile fire was north of the Bab el-Man­deb Strait, which serves as a gate­way for oil tankers headed to Europe through the Suez Canal, the of­fi­cial said. The of­fi­cial spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss de­tails of the in­ci­dent that haven’t been made pub­lic.

Last week, an Emi­rati-leased Swift boat came un­der rocket fire near the same area and sus­tained se­ri­ous dam­age. The United Arab Emi­rates de­scribed the ves­sel as car­ry­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian aid and hav­ing a crew of civil­ians, while the Houthis called the boat a war­ship. US Navy of­fi­cials de­clined to im­me­di­ately dis­cuss what kind of rock­ets were used in the USS Ma­son in­ci­dent. An­a­lysts with the Wash­ing­ton In­sti­tute for Near East Pol­icy sug­gested in a re­port that the Houthis may have tar­geted the Emi­rati ship with an Ira­nian anti-ship­ping cruise mis­sile, based on pur­ported video of the at­tack.

Shi­ite power Iran has sup­ported the Houthis, but de­nied sup­ply­ing them with weapons. Any Ira­nian in­volve­ment could stoke ten­sion be­tween the Is­lamic Re­pub­lic and the US, which al­ready have had a se­ries of tense naval en­coun­ters since the nu­clear deal with world pow­ers. Mean­while, Saudi state tele­vi­sion aired a brief clip of what ap­peared to be a pro­jec­tile that was said to have landed in Taif in the bal­lis­tic mis­sile at­tack. The video shows the flash of an ex­plo­sion, fol­lowed by images of emer­gency ve­hi­cles. Taif is home to Saudi Ara­bia’s King Fahd Air Base, which hosts U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel train­ing the king­dom’s armed forces. The Saudi mil­i­tary said the mis­sile fired late Satur­day night was in­ter­cepted and caused no dam­age. The US mil­i­tary’s Cen­tral Com­mand, which over­sees troops in the Mid­dle East, did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment. Al-Masirah, a satel­lite news chan­nel run by Ye­men’s Shi­ite rebels known as the Houthis, iden­ti­fied the mis­sile as a lo­cal vari­ant of a Soviet-era Scud mis­sile. It said the Vol­cano-1 mis­sile tar­geted the air base. The Houthis have fired a se­ries of bal­lis­tic mis­siles in Saudi Ara­bia since a king­dom­led coali­tion of Arab coun­tries has launched an of­fen­sive against them in Ye­men in March 2015. Most of those bal­lis­tic mis­siles have hit ar­eas far closer to Saudi Ara­bia’s bor­der with Ye­men, like an at­tack Fri­day night that tar­geted the south­west­ern city of Khamis Mushait.

In the Taif at­tack, how­ever, the mis­sile struck a tar­get more than 520 kilo­me­ters from the bor­der. Taif also is just out­side of Mecca, which is home to the cube-shaped Kaaba that all of the world’s Mus­lims pray to­ward. The Saudi mil­i­tary also said it ear­lier in­ter­cepted an­other bal­lis­tic mis­sile fired Sun­day on the Ye­meni city of Marib. The Houthis gave no rea­son for their tar­get­ing of Taif, but it comes after a Saudi-led airstrike Satur­day tar­get­ing a funeral in Ye­men’s cap­i­tal, Sanaa. On Sun­day, thou­sands marched through the streets of Sanaa to protest the strike, one of the dead­li­est sin­gle at­tacks in the im­pov­er­ished Arab coun­try’s re­lent­less civil war.

The Saudi For­eign Min­istry said its UN mis­sion sent a let­ter on Sun­day to the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, ex­press­ing the king­dom’s “deep re­gret of the re­ported at­tack” on the funeral. Saudi of­fi­cials have promised to in­ves­ti­gate the bomb­ing. Ye­men’s war is largely over­shad­owed by the con­flict against the Is­lamic State group else­where in the Mid­dle East, though rights groups have mounted in­creased crit­i­cism of the Saudi-led airstrikes in re­cent months for killing civil­ians. The UN and rights groups es­ti­mate the con­flict has killed at least 9,000 peo­ple and dis­placed nearly 3 mil­lion more. —AP

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