SANAA (Reuters) – The Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen carried out several air strikes on the Houthi-held capital Sanaa on Thursday after the Iranian-aligned movement claimed responsibility for drone attacks on Saudi oil installations.
The Sanaa strikes targeted nine military sites in and around the city, residents told Reuters. A Reuters witnesses said houses had been damaged in the raids and that people lifted a body out of the rubble of one home.
The Houthi-run Masirah TV channel reported six air strikes and said six civilians had been killed and dozens wounded, including women and children. A coalition spokesman did not immediately respond to a Reuters’ request for comment.
A coalition statement carried by Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV, said the Sunni Muslim alliance struck military bases and facilities and weapons storage sites with the aim of “neutralizing the ability of the Houthi militia to carry out acts of aggression”.
“The sorties achieved its goals with full precision,” the coalition said. It had urged civilians to avoid those targets.
One resident reported a strike near a densely-populated district and said ambulances rushed to the area, where flames and clouds of smoke could be seen.
“There was an air strike near us, in the middle of an area packed with residents between Hael and Raqas (streets),” Abdulrazaq Mohammed told Reuters. “The explosion was so strong that stones were flying. This is the first time our house shakes so much.”
Sanaa has been held by the Houthi movement since it ousted the internationally recognized government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from power there in late 2014. The coalition has previously targeted suspected drone and missile storage sites in the city.
Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday that armed drones attacked two oil pumping stations in the kingdom but did not disrupt output or exports. The Houthis said they were responsible.
“Attacks by the Houthi militia that is supported by Iran on oil installations in Saudi Arabia are a war crime,” the coalition said.
The United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday that the Western-backed coalition, of which it is a main member, would “retaliate hard” for any Houthi attacks on coalition targets.
The Sanaa air strikes and renewed fighting in Yemen’s Hodeidah port that breached a U.N.-sponsored truce in the Red Sea city, could complicate peace efforts to end the four-year war that has killed tens of thousands of people, many of them civilians, and pushed the country to the brink of famine.
The coalition, which receives arms and intelligence from Western nations, intervened in Yemen in 2015 to try to restore Hadi’s government, now based in the southern port of Aden.
The conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis deny being puppets of Tehran and say their revolution is against corruption.
The warring parties agreed last December at U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Sweden on a ceasefire and troop withdrawal deal in Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis that became the focus of the war last year.
The pact, the first major breakthrough in over four years, stalled for months amid deep suspicion among all parties, but special envoy Martin Griffiths secured some progress when the Houthis started withdrawing from three ports last Saturday.
Pro-coalition troops are expected to pull back as well under the deal once the two sides work out details for a broader phase two redeployment in Hodeidah, the main entry point for Yemen’s commercial and aid imports and the Houthis’ key supply line.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE accuse the group of smuggling Iranian weapons, including missiles that have been launched at Saudi cities. The Houthis and Tehran deny the accusations.
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Aden, Reuters team in Sanaa and Asma Alsharif in Dubai; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; editing by Angus MacSwan