A series of tit-for-tat attacks have culminated in a large-scale Houthi attack on Saudi state oil facilities on Friday. The United States has yet to blame Iran for the attack.
Al-JAWF, YEMEN — Yemen’s Houthi-allied armed forces launched an attack on vital facilities belonging to Saudi Aramco inside the Kingdom’s western province of Madinah, situated about 165 kilometers west of the city of Medina. The attack took place on Friday and involved the launching of both missiles ballistic missiles and drones. It came in retaliation for deadly Saudi attacks against the al-Jawf Province in Yemen last Friday.
Yemeni Army spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Saree said in a press conference on Friday that the Yemeni Army struck energy facilities in addition to sensitive sites in the Saudi port city of Yanbu as part of the freshly-launched operation “The Third Balance of Deterrence.” Saree revealed that Yemeni forces used a squadron of 12 Sammad-3 (Invincible-3) combat drones as well as a volley of winged and long-range ballistic missiles to carry out the attacks. He added that they came as revenge for Saudi attacks, including last Friday’s attack on al-Jawf Province, and confirmed that Saudi Arabia will suffer painful strikes if it continues its onslaught against Yemen.
On September 18, 2019, Yemen’s Houthi-allied Army announced the onset of the Second Balance of Deterrence Operation and hit Saudi Aramco petroleum and gas processing plants at Abqaiq and Khurais in the Kingdom’s oil-rich eastern provinces. The United States and some of its allies would later blame Iran for that attack.
Saudi Arabia for its part claims that it “downed missiles fired from Yemen.” Saudi Coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki said, “The missiles were fired by the Iran-aligned Houthi militant group,” adding, “they were launched in a systematic, deliberate manner to target cities and civilians, which is a flagrant defiance of international humanitarian law.” There has been no official comment from Saudi Arabia yet about the attacks on its oil facilities and casualty number have also not yet been revealed.
Last weekend, an estimated 35 people were killed and 23 others injured when the Saudi-led coalition hit the al-Hayjah area in al-Jawf with five airstrikes, including double-tap attacks, which caused huge damage to the district. Double-tap attacks, practiced heavily by Saudi Arabia, are when military jets return to the scene of an airstrike to target first responders and civilians that gather on the scene. At least 10 civilians were killed in the al-Hayjah double-tap attacks as they gathered near the wreckage of a Saudi warplane that was shot down during the onslaught, witnesses at the scene told MintPress.
Yemen’s Sana’a-based Ministry of Health said in a statement that the Saudi airstrikes killed 35 civilians in total, including 26 children and that 23 civilians were wounded, including 18 children. The office of the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen out the number lower, saying in a statement that “field reports indicate that on 15 February as many as 31 civilians were killed and 12 others injured in strikes that hit an area in Al-Jawf governorate.”
Lise Grande, the UN coordinator, denounced the strikes, saying, “Under international humanitarian law, parties which resort to force are obligated to protect civilians. Five years into this conflict and belligerents are still failing to uphold this responsibility. It’s shocking.”
International aid group Save the Children, which is very active in Yemen, said, “This latest attack must be urgently and independently investigated, and perpetrators held to account.” Xavier Joubert, the group’s country director in Yemen, added, “Those who continue to sell arms to the warring parties must realize that by supplying weapons for this war, they contribute to making atrocities like [this] all too common.”
Large rallies also took place in many Yemen’s districts to denounce the attacks, including in Sana’a, Ibb, Reimah, Dhamar, Hajjah, and Hodeida. Demonstrators carried banners emblazoned with messages of revenge, promises to challenge the Saudi-led Coalition, and pledges of resistance against foreign forces in Yemen. The demonstrators also called on Western governments to respect human rights and stop providing Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with weapons. Coalition countries, led by Saudi Arabia, have been waging a deadly war on Yemen since March 2015, using weapons and intelligence supplied by Western countries, most notably the United States, France, Britain, and Canada.
Last month alone, at least 30 civilians were killed and wounded as a result of Saudi Coalition airstrikes in Yemen according to the Yemeni government center on Human Rights. A new report from the center shows that coalition fighter jets launched 164 airstrikes and dropped 1,258 shells and missiles at 18 residential buildings, 71 residential areas, seven farms, an airport, a school, and a university.
The U.S.-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization, estimates that the war has claimed more than 100,000 lives over the past five years. Moreover, the coalition’s blockade of food and medicine hasro plagued the country with an unprecedented famine and has triggered a deadly outbreak of preventable diseases that have cost thousands of people their lives.
The spark that lit the fuse
Late last week, Houthi air defense units managed to target and shoot down a multi-role Tornado fighter jet over the skies of al-Jawf with an advanced surface-to-air missile, marking a setback for a military alliance known for its air supremacy and signaling new levels of advancement in the Houthis increasingly potent military arsenal.
The Yemeni army, loyal to Houthis, released footage of the launch of their advanced surface-to-air missile and the moment it struck the jet in the night sky, sending it crashing down in a ball of flames.
Last Saturday, the Saudi Coalition released a statement confirming the crash saying that” two officers ejected from the plane before it crashed,” and claiming that the Houthis fired at them in “violation of the international humanitarian law.” “The lives and wellbeing of the crew is the responsibility of Houthis,” the statement added.
A Houthi source who wished to remain anonymous as he was not authorized to speak on the subject, told MintPress that after the fighter jet went down, Saudi Coalition warplanes launched airstrikes hoping to kill the crew of the jet before they could be captured, he added that captured crew were, in fact, not Saudi nationals, but he refused to say where they were from, saying only that it was a “western country.” The Houthis were eventually able to capture the crew and move them to a secure location. One of them is seriously injured, according to the Houthi source, who said the attacks reveal that other countries are directly involved in the war not only by providing Saudi Arabia with internationally-prohibited weapons but also with military pilots.
The latest developments come amid fierce fighting in al-Jawf, where Houthi forces advanced on several fronts towards Al-Hazm, the regional capital of the province. Al-Jawf is now mostly controlled by Houthi forces, but its capital remains in the hands of Saudi- led coalition forces.
Earlier, Brigadier General Yahya Saree, the spokesman for Yemen’s Houthi-allied armed forces, announced that 2020 would be the year of air and that Yemeni forces would work to develop their military industries and enhance their inventory of various types of air defense capabilities.
The Houthis, the main force battling the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen, called on the Saudi regime to stop the war and siege on their country, warning that there would be risks and consequences for the Kingdom should they continue their attacks.
The war ostensibly began on March 26, 2015, when Saudi Arabia, backed by the U.S. and other regional allies, launched a large-scale attack on Yemen under the pretext of reinstating ousted former president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The war’s real purpose was to defeat the Houthis, which gained popular support following the Arab Spring and have grown even more powerful since the Saudi war began.
In the wake of the capturing of the Royal Saudi Air Force Tornado, the UN said that the Saudi Coalition and the Houthis have reached an agreement on the first large-scale prisoner exchange since the war began. Thousands of prisoners, including Saudi and Sudanese nationals, are expected to be released per an agreement brokered in Sweden in 2018.
Feature photo | Houthi rebel fighters display their weapons during a gathering aimed at mobilizing more fighters for the in Sana’a, Yemen, Feb. 20, 2020. Hani Mohammed | AP
Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.