The Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Houthi rebels conducted airstrikes against targets at Sanaa’s international airport after warning civilians to evacuate the area, according to Saudi state media.
Coalition aircraft on Monday evening carried out strikes against “legitimate military targets” at the airport, spokesperson Turki al-Maliki said in a statement.
“The Houthi militia has abused the special protection accorded to the airport through conducting and launching hostile, cross-border operations using ballistic missiles and bomb-laden drones to target civilians and civilian objects in Yemen and its neighboring countries,” the statement read.
The aircraft struck at six locations “being used to command bomb-laden drone attacks and activities, train terrorist elements on bomb-laden drones, trainers and trainees housing and two bomb-laden drones storage facilities,” al-Maliki’s statement alleged.
Yemen’s Houthi rebels continue to lob explosive drones and ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia in recent years. US and UN officials have cited evidence that weapons used in similar attacks have origins in Iran, though Iran has denied providing arms to the Yemeni rebels.
Pro-Houthi outlet SABA quoted the head of Houthi’s civilian air administrative body as saying the airstrikes took the airport out of a state of “readiness” and accused the Saudi-led coalition of attempting to hinder humanitarian shipments.
A local airport official was quoted by the AFP as saying “the airport is no longer able to receive aircraft operated by the United Nations or international humanitarian organizations.”
A UN team was on the ground Tuesday to inspect the damage, a spokesperson for the World Food Program said.
Saudi Arabia leads a Gulf military coalition attempting to beat back the Houthis, who have captured nearly all of Yemen’s population centers since taking the capital from the Yemeni government in 2015.
Earlier this month the Saudi-led coalition said it intercepted a ballistic missile over Riyadh that it said was fired by the Houthis.
The Riyadh-led coalition vowed firm retaliation, but said it would carry that out within international law.
The coalition’s statement on Monday cited international law on distinguishing between military and civilian targets.
“Neutralizing and destroying these targets will have no effect on the operational capacity of the airport, and will not affect air traffic management, airspace management or ground handling operations,” the statement claimed.
Despite promises from the Joe Biden administration to push for an end to the Yemen war, Riyadh has upped its military campaign in recent weeks. Earlier this year the Biden administration said it halted support for offensive coalition operations in the war, but progressive lawmakers failed earlier this month to codify that policy into law.
The US stopped mid-air refueling for Saudi-led coalition aircraft in 2018.
Meanwhile, fighting has continued to rage outside the oil-rich pro-goverment holdout of Marib. The Houthis have not taken up a ceasefire proposal put forth by Saudi leadership earlier this year.
A US official told reporters last week that Riyadh is intercepting roughly 90% of the attempted cross-border aerial attacks launched by the rebels in recent months and that Washington is working to help make the kingdom's defenses even more effective.
Yemen's civil war, now in its seventh year, is projected to take the lives of as many as 377,000 people by the end of this year, according to United Nations report released in November.