Saudi royal palace was targeted in missile launch, Houthis of Yemen say

The Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Shia rebels said it intercepted a missile fired over southern Riyadh on Tuesday, while the rebels said they targeted the royal palace in the kingdom’s capital.

It was the second time in as many months that a rebel projectile had reached as far inside the kingdom as Riyadh.

The Yemeni rebels said they launched a ballistic missile to target Yamama Palace in Riyadh, where King Salman chairs weekly government meetings and receives dignitaries and heads of state from around the world.

The coalition statement, carried by Saudi state TV, said the missile was fired by the rebels known as Houthis. State TV said no damage was caused by the intercepted missile.

Residents of Riyadh posted videos on social media showing a small cloud of smoke in the sky after hearing a loud explosion over their homes and while driving.

Conflicting reports about previous missile

In Yemen, Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdul-Salam said the group targeted the Yamama Palace. He tweeted that a ballistic Volcano H-2 missile was used in the attack.

In a televised address, rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi said the range of missiles in the Houthi arsenal was being extended. “Our long hand will reach other places, God willing,” he said.

“As long as you continue to target Sanaa we will strike Riyadh and Abu Dhabi,” he said, referring to the seat of government of the United Arab Emirates, a key member of the coalition. Earlier this month, the Houthis claimed they fired a missile at an under-construction nuclear plant in the Emirates. The UAE denied the claim.

Saudi Yemen map

(CBC)

In the almost three years that the Saudi-led coalition has waged war since March 2015 with Yemen’s rebels, dozens of other missiles have been fired by the Houthis across the border into Saudi Arabia, reaching as far as some border towns. There have been casualties among local residents in those attacks.

Despite a fierce air campaign against the Houthis, the rebels still largely control the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north along the border with Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this month, the Houthis killed Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, after he switched alliances and struck deals with the Saudi-led coalition. Yemen’s war has killed more than 10,000 civilians and driven millions to the brink of famine.

On Nov. 4, the Houthis targeted Saudi Arabia’s international airport in Riyadh, and Saudi Air Defence said it was intercepted. However, a New York Times analysis of photos and videos from the attack found that the missile may have actually come apart because of its speed and force.

Saudi Arabia has the U.S.-made Patriot surface-to-air anti-missile system, which President Donald Trump credited for bringing the Nov. 4 missile down.

US Exposing Iran

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, speaks Dec. 14 in front of recovered segments of a missile. The administration described it as ‘undeniable’ evidence that Iran is sending missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen in defiance of international law. (Cliff Owen/Associated Press)

The Houthis, who are allied with Saudi Arabia’s rival, Iran, have forced into exile the Saudi-backed and internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, appeared at a news conference last week with missile debris from what the administration has concluded was manufactured in Iran and fired from Yemen this year.

Civilians, Saudi allies killed in airstrikes: UN

A UN human rights spokesperson said Tuesday that airstrikes by the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen have killed at least 136 civilians and non-combatants since Dec. 6. As well, the coalition was still maintaining tight restrictions on ships reaching Yemen with needed food, fuel and medicine.

“We are deeply concerned at the recent surge in civilian casualties in Yemen as a result of intensified airstrikes by the … coalition, following the killing of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa on Dec. 4,” Rupert Colville told a news briefing.

Colville said that incidents verified by the UN human rights office strangely included seven airstrikes on a prison in the Shaub district of Sanaa on Dec. 13. The strikes killed at least 45 detainees thought to be loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is backed by the Saudis.

“One can assume that was a mistake, they weren’t intending to kill prisoners from their own side,” Colville said. “It’s an illustration of lack of due precaution.”

Other airstrikes killed 14 children and six adults in a farmhouse in Hodeidah governorate on Dec. 15, as well as a woman and nine children returning from a wedding party in Marib governorate on Dec. 16, he said.

The restrictions on access to Yemen imposed by the coalition became a total blockade on Nov. 6 though conditions were eased on Nov. 25 to allow aid ships and some commercial cargoes to reach the shattered Arabian Peninsula country. 

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