Tension between Yemen and Saudi Arabia rises again after attack on oil company

Tension between Yemen and Saudi Arabia rises again after attack on oil company

Yemen’s Houthi rebel group launched missiles on Friday (25) at facilities of Saudi Arabia’s state oil company Aramco – one of the world’s largest companies in the field. The attack, in Jeddah, takes place two days before the Formula 1 stage in the city. There are no reports of casualties, according to the local government.

According to the Iranian-backed rebels, the bombings set two company tanks on fire. The attack was directed at a petroleum products distribution station.

Earlier, the Reuters news agency reported a huge cloud of black smoke over the city on the shores of the Red Sea. Videos shared on social media, which could not be independently verified, also showed oil tank fires at an Aramco facility outside Jeddah.

The smoke could be seen from close to the racetrack, where Friday’s free practice was delayed because of the attack. “I can smell burning. Is that my car?” reigning world champion Max Verstappen asked his team over the radio. Formula 1 said the race, scheduled for Sunday, will take place as normal.

The Saudi-led coalition confirmed the attacks and said the fires had already been brought under control by early evening (local time, in the afternoon in Brasilia).

The Houthis even declared that they had targeted “vital facilities” in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. “We have carried out several attacks with drones and ballistic missiles,” they said in a statement. According to them, there were 16 targets.

Prior to that, Saudi state media reported that a series of drone and rocket attacks had been intercepted, as well as a ballistic rocket launched towards the southwestern port city of Jazan, almost on the border with Yemen.

In this latest episode, however, the interception was not enough to contain all the damage: a power distribution plant caught fire, according to the local press. The attacks come on the eve of the seventh anniversary of the country’s military intervention in Yemen’s civil war.

After the blasts, the Energy Ministry said it would not be responsible for any shortages of oil supplies to global markets, blaming the rebels for an eventual drop in oil supplies. Saudi Arabia is the largest exporter of the commodity.

The US, which supports the Saudi alliance, condemned the attacks and called them unacceptable.

Friday’s bombing comes as the United Nations tries to secure a temporary truce for the Muslim holy month (Ramadan), which begins in April.

The negotiations, however, are surrounded by tension. Last weekend, an explosion caused by the Houthis led to a temporary halt in production at a refinery; a distribution terminal was also hit and caught fire. Before that, on the 11th, the group attacked a refinery in Riyadh, causing a small fire.

In January, the rebels were targeting another: Abu Dhabi, which is also part of the coalition that is trying to consolidate the current Yemeni government, supported internationally. At the time, a Houthi attack caused a fire near the airport of the capital of the United Arab Emirates and the explosion of three tanker trucks. The incident left three dead and six injured.

At the time, there was a counteroffensive. The Saudi-led alliance launched a series of airstrikes on Sanaa, the Houthis-controlled Yemeni capital. According to the rebels, who hold much of northern Yemen, 20 people have died, including a former Houthi soldier.

The Yemen war is seen as a proxy battle between Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim country, and Shiite Iran. Who suffers, however, is the local population. According to a UN estimate made last year, of the country’s 30 million inhabitants, 21 million need help.

In addition, the conflict has already left 10,000 children dead or maimed, according to UNICEF (the UN Children’s Fund), and 11 million children are in need of humanitarian aid.

The coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Houthis overthrew the Saudi-backed government late the previous year. The rebels, meanwhile, say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign aggression.

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