Saudi intercepts missiles over Riyadh, Jizan

Two civilians injured in Riyadh.
Sunday 29/03/2020
A Patriot missile battery is seen near Prince Sultan air base at al-Kharj.
Iranian support. A Patriot missile battery is seen near Prince Sultan air base at al-Kharj.

Saudi air defences intercepted ballistic missiles over Riyadh and another Saudi city on the Yemen border late Saturday.

The Saudi-led military coalition blamed the attempted attacks on Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi rebels who have previously targeted Saudi cities with missiles, rockets and drones.

"Two ballistic missiles were launched towards the cities of Riyadh and Jizan," the official Saudi Press Agency reported, citing the coalition fighting the rebels.

Their interception sent shrapnel raining on residential neighbourhoods in the cities, leaving two civilians injured in Riyadh, a civil defence spokesman said in a separate statement released by SPA.

At least three blasts were heard in the capital, which is under a 15-hour coronavirus curfew, just before midnight, said AFP reporters. Jizan, like many other Saudi cities, faces a shorter dusk-to-dawn curfew.

The assault comes despite a show of support on Thursday by all of Yemen's warring parties for a United Nations call for a ceasefire to protect civilians from the coronavirus pandemic.

Saudi Arabia, the Yemeni government and the rebels all welcomed an appeal from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres for an "immediate global ceasefire" to help avert disaster for vulnerable people in conflict zones.

The internationally-recognised Yemeni government condemned the attack, which it said undermined efforts to scale down the conflict amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Information Minister Moammer al-Eryani said in a tweet that the strikes also confirmed the "continued flow of Iranian weapons" to the Houthi militias.

"This militia lives only on wars and doesn't understand peace language," he said.

Fighting has recently escalated again between the Houthis and Riyadh-backed Yemeni troops around the strategic northern districts of Al-Jouf and Marib, ending a months-long lull.

The Huthis also claimed to be ready to halt all missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia after strikes on its oil installations last September, which were claimed by the Houthis but widely blamed on Iran, despite its denials. Observers say the Houthis may have used the lull to bolster their military capabilities instead.

The Houthis are considered by experts to be among Iran's regional proxies and hence carry Tehran's agenda in the region.