Saudi Ara­bia shoots down a Scud mis­sile fired from Ye­men

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY AB­DUL­LAH AL-SHIHRI

Saudi Ara­bia said it shot down a Scud mis­sile fired by Ye­men’s Shi­ite rebels and their al­lies early Satur­day at a Saudi city that is home to a large air base, mark­ing a ma­jor es­ca­la­tion in the month­s­long war.

Two mis­siles launched from a Pa­triot mis­sile bat­tery shot down the Scud around 2:45 a.m. Satur­day (2345 GMT, 7:45 p.m. EDT Fri­day) around the south­west­ern city of Khamis Mushait, the of­fi­cial Saudi Press Agency re­ported. The agency did not re­port any ca­su­al­ties in the attack, the first use of a Cold War-era Scud by the rebels since Saudiled airstrikes be­gan in March.

Khamis Mushait is home to the King Khalid Air Base, the largest such fa­cil­ity in that part of the coun­try. Saudis on so­cial me­dia re­ported hear­ing air raid sirens go off around the city dur­ing the attack.

The agency blamed Ira­ni­an­backed Shi­ite rebels known as Houthis and their al­lies in forces loyal to for­mer Ye­meni Pres­i­dent Ali Ab­dul­lah Saleh. Ye­men’s state news agency SABA, now con­trolled by the Houthis, said the rebels and their al­lies fired the Scud.

Saudi Ara­bia leads a coali­tion tar­get­ing the rebels in airstrikes that be­gan March 26 in sup­port of the coun­try’s ex­iled Pres­i­dent Abed Rabbo Man­sour Hadi. Those strikes have tar­geted arms caches and Scud mis­sile sites around the coun­try.

The coali­tion re­sponded to Satur­day’s attack by tar­get­ing and dam­ag­ing the launcher, which was lo­cated south of the Houthi strong­hold of Saada, ac­cord­ing to the news agency.

Ye­meni se­cu­rity of­fi­cials said coali­tion planes launched at least six airstrikes early Satur­day against a Houthi con­voy head­ing to­ward Saada. Airstrikes also hit a con­voy in Am­ran prov­ince, which Houthi and tribal of­fi­cials said was trans­port­ing live­stock. The of­fi­cials spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity as they weren’t au­tho­rized to brief jour­nal­ists.

Saudi Ara­bia is the world’s largest oil ex­porter. Its ma­jor oil fields are lo­cated in the east of the coun­try, far from Khamis Mushait.

The United States has pro­vided lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port to the mostly Arab coali­tion. U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials in the re­gion had no im­me­di­ate com­ment.

The Houthis be­gan their ad­vance in Septem­ber, sweep­ing into the Ye­meni cap­i­tal, Sanaa, and tak­ing over gov­ern­ment min­istries and other ar­eas. They held top of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Hadi, un­der house ar­rest un­til Hadi fled, first to the south­ern port city of Aden, then to Saudi Ara­bia as the rebels closed in backed by forces loyal to Saleh.

The Saudi-led air cam­paign and ground fight­ing have killed more than 1,000 civil­ians and dis­placed more than 1 mil­lion peo­ple since mid- March, the spokesman for the U.N. sec­re­tary-gen­eral, Stephane Du­jar­ric, told re­porters Wed­nes­day.

'It is an es­ca­la­tion'

The of­fen­sive has so far failed to force the Houthis to with­draw from any ter­ri­tory they hold or blunt their ad­vance in south­ern Ye­men.

In April, the spokesman for the Saudi-led coali­tion, Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri, im­plied that the Scud mis­sile ar­se­nal in Ye­men had been se­ri­ously de­graded as a re­sult of the airstrikes. “As coali­tion forces, we con­firm that all Houthi ca­pa­bil­i­ties were tar­geted, fore­most their bal­lis­tic mis­siles,” Asiri said.

Ab­dulkhaleq Ab­dul­lah, a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science at United Arab Emi­rates Uni­ver­sity, said Satur­day’s attack was a way for the Houthis and the al­lies to sig­nal that they still have fight left de­spite weeks of airstrikes. The Emi­rates is a mem­ber of the coali­tion.

“Of course, it is an es­ca­la­tion,” Ab­dul­lah said. “It is clear now there has not been a knock­out and a com­plete de­mo­li­tion of Houthi fire­power. So we have to con­tend with this.”

On Fri­day, the Houthis and Saleh’s forces launched a ground of­fen­sive tar­get­ing the Saudi bor­der, which saw the king­dom fire ar­tillery and launch Apache attack he­li­copters, the Saudi Press Agency re­ported.

The agency re­ported “scores” of rebel forces be­ing killed in a battle that lasted from dawn to noon Fri­day, with four Saudi sol­diers killed in the fight­ing.

The Saudis and West­ern pow­ers ac­cuse the Houthis of re­ceiv­ing mil­i­tary sup­port from Shi­ite power Iran as part of a larger proxy war be­tween the Sunni king­dom and the Is­lamic Repub­lic across the Mideast. Tehran and the rebels deny the al­le­ga­tions, though Iran has ac­knowl­edged send­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian aid to the Houthis.

The strikes, as well as a Saudiled air and sea block­ade, have caused food, wa­ter and medicine short­ages, spark­ing a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in the Arab world’s poor­est coun­try.

The Soviet Union de­vel­oped Scuds dur­ing the Cold War and ex­ported the bal­lis­tic mis­siles to sev­eral coun­tries, in­clud­ing Ye­men. A web­site al­lied with Saleh says the Ye­meni army pos­sesses 300 Scud mis­siles, most of them un­der the con­trol of the Houthis and Saleh’s forces.

Scud strikes in Saudi Ara­bia have been fa­tal in the past. On Feb. 25, 1991, an Iraqi-fired Scud evaded a Pa­triot strike and hit a U.S. base in Dhahran, Saudi Ara­bia, killing 28 Amer­i­can sol­diers.

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