Houthis up the ante with mis­sile fire

The Shi­ite in­sur­gents in Ye­men launch at least one Scud at a ma­jor Saudi air base, but it is shot down.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Zaid Al-Alayaa and Laura King laura.king@la­times.com Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Al-Alayaa re­ported from Sana and Times staff writer King from Is­tan­bul. Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Amro Has­san in Ber­lin con­trib­uted to this report.

SANA, Ye­men — In the first such at­tack of the 10week-old con­flict in Ye­men, Shi­ite Mus­lim rebels said they had launched three Scud mis­siles to­ward a large Saudi air base early Satur­day. The Saudis ac­knowl­edged the fir­ing of one mis­sile, which they said was shot down.

The use of Scud mis­siles by the Houthi rebels — and U.S.-pro­vided Pa­triot mis­siles to de­flect them — marked a sig­nif­i­cant es­ca­la­tion of the con­flict, in which more than 2,200 peo­ple in Ye­men have been killed and about 1 mil­lion dis­placed, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­na­tional es­ti­mates.

The episode comes as the United Na­tions strug­gles to bring the two sides to­gether for talks that could be­gin June14. Both sides ap­pear to be seek­ing to shore up their gains in ad­vance of any ne­go­ti­a­tions.

The Houthis’ Masirah tele­vi­sion re­ported the at­tack, which Saudi Ara­bian re­ports said was aimed at the Saudi city of Khamis Mushait, home to King Khalid Air Base. The of­fi­cial Saudi Press Agency re­ported that the mis­sile was fired shortly be­fore 3 a.m.

A Saudi-led coali­tion has been pound­ing the Houthis and their al­lies with airstrikes since March 26 in an ef­fort to re­store ex­iled Pres­i­dent Abdu Rabu Man­sour Hadi to of­fice. Hadi has been in the Saudi cap­i­tal since flee­ing Ye­men in March in the face of a Houthi ad­vance on the strate­gic port city of Aden.

Sunni Mus­lim Saudi Ara­bia con­sid­ers the Shi­ite Houthis to be in­stru­ments of the re­gion’s main Shi­ite power, Iran, and the air war is re­garded as a bid to check Ira­nian power in the re­gion.

Saudi news re­ports saida re­tal­ia­tory strike tar­geted the Scud launcher out­side the north­ern Ye­men city of Saada, a home base for the Houthis. Ye­men’s cap­i­tal, Sana, which the rebels seized in Septem­ber, has been hit in re­cent days by what res­i­dents call some of the heav­i­est bom­bard­ment of the of­fen­sive.

The Houthis have gained ac­cess to bat­tle­field weaponry through al­liances with mil­i­tary units loyal to Ye­men’s de­posed strong­man, Ali Ab­dul­lah Saleh. Saudi Ara­bia also ac­cuses Iran of arm­ing the in­sur­gents, which Tehran denies.

The Saudi-led coali­tion has placed an air and sea em­bargo on Ye­men, caus­ing crip­pling short­ages of food, fuel and med­i­cal sup­plies. Few hu­man­i­tar­ian ship­ments have been al­lowed through.

But 2½ months of airstrikes have failed to break the rebels’ grip on Sana, large parts of Aden or other ter­ri­tory. The United States has been lend­ing lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port to the Saudi-led coali­tion.

While the Saudi of­fen­sive has been waged by air, the Houthis have been at­tack­ing the long Saudi fron­tier with ground forces and ar­tillery fire.

The rebels’ use of Scud mis­siles demon­strated that the in­sur­gents still have ac­cess to so­phis­ti­cated weaponry de­spite hun­dreds of airstrikes tar­get­ing bases and weapons caches of the Houthis and their al­lies.

Yahya Arhab Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

A YOUNG HOUTHI mil­i­tant stands guard dur­ing a rally in Sana, the Ye­meni cap­i­tal, protest­ing the Saudi-led coali­tion’s air cam­paign against the group.

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