Saudi-led coalition sets deadline for Houthi weapons withdrawal

Retaining weapons in the Yemeni capital's airport and the ports of Hodeidah and Saleef would "end their status" as safe regions not to be targeted by coalition air strikes.

 A MILITARY drone is launched from an unknown location in Yemen last week, as viewed in this screenshot obtained from a handout video. (photo credit: Houthi Military Media/Reuters)
A MILITARY drone is launched from an unknown location in Yemen last week, as viewed in this screenshot obtained from a handout video.
(photo credit: Houthi Military Media/Reuters)

The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen on Saturday set the Iran-aligned group Houthis a three-hour deadline to withdraw weapons from the airport of Sanaa and from two ports on the Red Sea, Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV reported.

Retaining weapons in the Yemeni capital's airport and the ports of Hodeidah and Saleef would "end their status" as safe regions not to be targeted by coalition air strikes, it said, without saying exactly at what time the deadline would expire.

The coalition said earlier on Saturday it was carrying out air strikes on Sanaa and Hodeidah in reaction to Houthi attacks on Saudi oil facilities.

The coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Houthis ousted the Saudi-backed government in late 2014.

The conflict, widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.

Yemen's Houthis said they launched attacks on Saudi energy facilities on Friday and the Saudi-led coalition said oil giant Aramco's petroleum products distribution station in Jeddah was hit, causing a fire in two storage tanks but no casualties.

A huge plume of black smoke could be seen rising over the Red Sea city where the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is taking place, an eyewitness said.

The Iran-aligned Houthis have escalated attacks on the kingdom's oil facilities in recent weeks and ahead of a temporary truce for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The Saudi energy ministry said the kingdom strongly condemned the "sabotage attacks", reiterating that it would not bear responsibility for any global oil supply disruptions resulting from such attacks, state news agency SPA reported, citing an official in the ministry.

The ministry blamed Iran for continuing to arm the Houthis with ballistic missiles and advanced drones, stressing that the attacks "would lead to impacting the Kingdom's production capacity and its ability to fulfil its obligations to global markets". Teheran denies arming the Houthis.

Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea said the group launched missiles on Friday at Aramco's facilities in Jeddah and drones at the Ras Tanura and Rabigh refineries, and said it had also targeted "vital facilities" in Riyadh, the capital.

Saudi state media earlier said the coalition had foiled a string of Houthi drone and rocket attacks. Saudi air defences also destroyed a ballistic missile launched towards Jizan, which caused a "limited" fire at an electricity distribution plant.

The Houthi escalation comes as the United Nations special envoy tries to secure a temporary truce for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that starts in April, and ahead of Riyadh's hosting Yemeni parties for consultations later this month.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the attacks on ally Saudi Arabia, and said the United States would continue to work with Riyadh to strengthen its defences while working for a durable resolution to the conflict in Yemen.

"At a time when the parties should be focused on de-escalation and bringing needed life-saving  relief to the Yemeni  people ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, the Houthis continue their destructive behaviour  and reckless terrorist attacks  striking  civilian infrastructure," Blinken said.  

Last weekend a Houthi assault on the kingdom caused a temporary drop in output at a refinery and a fire at a petroleum products distribution terminal. On March 11, the group targeted a refinery in Riyadh, causing a small fire.