Riyadh: The Iranian regime threatens regional and international security and has violated international law and UN resolutions by supporting and arming terrorist groups with ballistic missiles, heat seeking missiles and drones, the Saudi-led coalition says.
“The Iranian-backed Al Houthi terrorist militias fired at Saudi Arabia seven ballistic missiles that bear the imprint of [the] Tehran regime, which is sponsoring terrorism and terrorists groups,” coalition spokesperson Colonel Turki Al Malki said during a press conference held on Monday in Riyadh.
He called on the international community and the UN Security Council to take legal action to hold the Iranian regime accountable for violating UN resolutions, including 2231 and 2216, and its breach of international law.
Col. Al Malki said that Saudi air forces managed to intercept the seven ballistic missiles.
The missile attacks represented a deadly escalation on the eve of the third anniversary of the Saudi-led coalition’s intervention in Yemen.
Al Houthis held a huge rally in Sana’a on Monday to mark the anniversary.
Three of the missiles were fired toward Riyadh, two toward Jazan, and one each toward Khamis Mushayt and Najran. They all targeted populated areas.
One Egyptian was killed and two of his countrymen were wounded by falling shrapnel in Riyadh, authorities said, with residents reporting loud explosions and bright flashes in the sky shortly before midnight.
“This aggressive and hostile action by the Iran-backed Al Houthi group proves that the Iranian regime continues to support the armed group with military capabilities,” Al Malki said.
“The firing of multiple ballistic missiles towards cities is a serious development.”
The UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Jordan on Monday expressed their condemnation of the rocket attacks of Al Houthi militias on Saudi Arabia and pledged to stand in solidarity with the Kingdom in the face of this escalation, which was aimed at terrorising civilians.
The Al Houthi-run Al-Masira television channel claimed the militants had targeted Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport as well as other airstrips in the south of the kingdom.
The strikes come after the US defence secretary last week urged Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman during his visit to Washington to pursue “urgent efforts” to end Yemen’s wrenching conflict.
Al Houthi militants have fired dozens of missiles into Saudi Arabia since last year, all of which Saudi forces have intercepted, underscoring the Houthis' capacity to strike deep within the kingdom amid a stalemated war in Yemen.
The latest attack could further escalate the coalition’s military campaign.
A major attack targeting Riyadh international airport on November 4 triggered Saudi Arabia to tighten its blockade of the Red Sea port of Hodeidah — accusing Iran of violating an arms embargo and smuggling weapons into Al Houthi hands.
Another strike on December 19 targeted Riyadh’s Yamamah palace, the official residence of King Salman.
Saudi Arabia has accused its arch foe Iran of supplying the missile to the militants, a charge Tehran strongly denied.
How did the war in Yemen start?
The Saudi-led Arab coalition entered the Yemeni war three years ago — on March 26, 2015.
They did so in reaction to an Al Houthi coup which forced the internationally-recognised Yemeni president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi out of power.
He later was able to escape house arrest and flee to Aden where he temporarily shifted government headquarters. Since then, the coalition has gained back 86 per cent of Yemeni territory but major population centres still remain under Al Houthi control.
The war has cost the lives of thousands of Yemenis and pushed the Arab world’s poorest country to the brink of famine.
Who are the players?
The Saudi-led Arab coalition are supporting Yemeni forces who back Hadi. Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan and Senegal are all involved in the coalition in some form.
Al Houthis, are part of the Zaydi offshoot of Shiism, and are being supported and financed by Iran.
General People’s Congress
The General People’s Congress is the party of ousted Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh ruled Yemen for more than three decades until he was forced to resign following an Arab Spring uprising in 2011. He remained in the country, however, and continued to wield power from behind the scenes. In 2014, his forces allied with Al Houthi militia, despite the fact that as president he had gone to war with them several times in the past.
There had been simmering tensions between the two awkward allies in past months that boiled over in December when Saleh suggested he would cooperate with Hadi — he was assassinated shortly after.
Since then senior members of Saleh’s party have either been executed or placed under house arrest by Al Houthis amid a draconion crackdown.
While most analysts say that Saleh’s slaying could give Al Houthis the upper hand in the short term, the broken alliance between Al Houthis and forces loyal to Saleh appears to be permanent, which will help the Yemeni government and its backers in the Saudi-led coalition weaken their grip on the country given the reduction in manpower.
Al Qaida, has taken advantage of chaos and a power vacuum in the country, and overran many provinces in southern Yemen. Since then, the UAE has led a successful drive to reverse their gains. The US is also very much involved in anti-Al Qaida operations and even has troops on the ground.
What is Iran’s role?
Saudi Arabia has said that the conflict in Yemen is not a war of choice but necessity. It accuses Iran of meddling not only in Yemen but across the region in countries like Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Gulf.
Entering into war was a bold decision made three years ago and has largely been supervised by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, who also serves as the country’s defence minister.
The Iran-backed militants have fired thousands of rockets into southern Saudi Arabia since the war began but Sunday's attack was the most aggressive to date.
Under the US administration of Donald Trump, several officials have condemned Iran’s ongoing support to the militants in Yemen but have yet to take concrete steps against it.
The UN says living conditions in the war-scarred country have reached catastrophic levels and that 8.4 million people face imminent famine.
The UN urgently needs $350 million for humanitarian projects in Yemen, a senior agency official said on Sunday, insisting it was mere “peanuts” compared with the cost of the country’s war.
Numerous rounds of UN-sponsored peace talks have failed to stem the bloodshed in Yemen.
- With inputs from AFP