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.
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.
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.