Dubai: Yemen’s Houthi rebels on Wednesday targeted Abha International Airport in southwestern Saudi Arabia, causing a civilian plane on the tarmac to catch fire, the kingdom’s state television reported. The state-owned Al-Ekhbariya TV said that firefighters have brought the blaze under control. The initial reports offered no word on any possible casualties from the attack. Saudi officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Col. Turki al-Maliki, the spokesman for the Saudi-led military coalition, said coalition forces intercepted and destroyed two bomb-laden drones launched by the Houthis toward the kingdom. He condemned the assault as a “systematic and deliberate attempt to target civilians in the southern region” of Saudi Arabia.
In November 2017, the Houthis targeted Riyadh’s international airport in an attack. Saudi officials later blamed Iran for providing the missile to the Houthis used in that and other attacks on the kingdom amid its grinding, yearslong war against the rebels. Tehran long has denied providing arms to the Houthis, though evidence and United Nations expert reports show weapons linking back to Iran.
Wednesday’s attack, however, represented the first one to reportedly damaged a civilian aircraft at the facility. Flight-tracking websites showed delayed and cancelled flights scheduled to either take off or land at the airport. At least two Airbus A320s flown by the Saudia, the kingdom’s flag carrier, were on the ground at Abha on Wednesday afternoon, according to the flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.Com. Another Airbus A320 on the ground there belonged to low-cost carrier FlyADeal. Both airlines did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said in a statement that it will “hold the militia accountable in accordance with international humanitarian law,” referring to the Houthis. There was no announcement from the Houthis on the attack. Military spokesmen for the group did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.
Saudi Arabia has been at war with the Houthis in Yemen for nearly six years, a grinding conflict that has spawned the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. Yemen’s war began in September 2014, when the Houthis seized the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north. Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates and other countries, entered the war alongside Yemen’s internationally recognized government in March 2015.