At least 26 civilians have been injured in a missile attack by Yemen’s rebel Houthi movement on an airport in south-west Saudi Arabia, the military says.
Three women and two children were among those hurt when the arrivals hall at Abha airport was hit early on Wednesday, according to a statement. The rebels said they had launched a cruise missile at the facility.
Saudi Arabia leads a coalition of Arab states backing Yemen’s government in its four-year war with the Houthis.
Yemen has been devastated by a conflict that escalated in March 2015, when the rebels seized control of much of the west of the country and forced President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to flee abroad.
Alarmed by the rise of a group they believed to be backed militarily by regional Shia power Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Arab states began an air campaign aimed at restoring Mr Hadi’s government.
Coalition military spokesman Col Turki al-Maliki said a projectile fired by the Houthis hit Abha International Airport at 02:21 on Wednesday (23:21 GMT on Tuesday), according to a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.
Col Maliki said the attack on a civilian airport, which is about 110km (70 miles) from the border with Yemen, was a violation of international humanitarian law and that it might constitute a war crime.
The coalition would “take urgent and timely measures to deter this terrorist militia, and to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian objects”, he added.
Col Maliki said work was under way to identify the type of projectile involved, but Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV cited rebel military spokesman Brig-Gen Yahia Sari as saying it was a cruise missile. “The latest US systems could not intercept the missile. This strike spread panic and fear among enemies and caused a great confusion in their side,” he added.
Al-Masirah said it was the second time the Houthis had fired a cruise missile. The first reportedly targeted a nuclear power plant under construction in Abu Dhabi in 2017. There were no reports of a missile reaching the emirate at the time. The rebels have carried out numerous cross-border missile and drone attacks in the past. But it is rare for them to cause so many civilian casualties.
Last month, the Houthis carried simultaneous drone attacks on two oil pumping stations in Saudi Arabia, which put a key pipeline out of action for a day.
Saudi Deputy Defence Minister Prince Khaled bin Salman said this attack and others were “ordered by the regime in Tehran”. Iran denied it was involved, as did the Houthis.
In response, the coalition launched air strikes on the rebel-held Yemeni capital, Sanaa, which reportedly killed at least six people, including four children.
The UN says the fighting in Yemen has left at least 7,000 civilians dead and 11,000 injured. About 65% of the deaths have been attributed to coalition air strikes. Thousands more civilians have died from preventable causes, including malnutrition, disease and poor health.
In December, both sides agreed to a local ceasefire and withdrawal of forces around the key Red Sea port city of Hudaydah, through which most of Yemen’s aid is delivered. But elsewhere the violence has continued unabated.