The Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Houthi rebels said Monday they had launched airstrikes on the rebel-held capital Sanaa following a deadly attack on Abu Dhabi that killed three and was claimed by rebels.
“In response to the threat and (of) military necessity, airstrikes have begun in Sanaa,” the official Saudi press agency said on Twitter, hours after hours after the United Arab Emirates (UAE) promised retaliation.
Houthi’s Al-Masirah TV channel confirmed the coalition’s raids without immediately reporting any casualties.
The United Arab Emirates is part of a Saudi-led military coalition that supports the Yemeni government against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who have repeatedly targeted Saudi Arabia with cross-border strikes.
But Monday’s attack on the Houthis was the first deadly attack on Emirati’s ground recognized by the United Arab Emirates and claimed by rebels, who said they had fired ballistic missiles and deployed armed drones.
Two Indians and a Pakistani working for the oil giant ADNOC died when three petrol tanks exploded near a storage facility, while a fire also broke out in a construction site at the airport in Abu Dhabi in the heart of the United Arab Emirates, a well-known refuge in the volatile Middle East.
Police said “small flying objects, possibly belonging to drones” were found at both locations. Drone attacks have been a hallmark of the rebels’ attacks on neighboring Saudi Arabia.
“We condemn the Houthi terrorist militia’s focus on civilian areas and facilities on United Arab Emirates soil today … this sinful focus will not go unpunished,” United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan said in a statement when his ministry described the attack as an “abominable criminal escalation”.
Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree said they had “conducted … a successful military operation” against “important and sensitive Emirates sites and installations” with both ballistic missiles and drones.
The incident follows an increase in fighting in Yemen, including progress by UAE – trained troops. The rebels also seized a UAE-flagged ship and its international crew earlier this month.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation all condemned the “terrorist” attack. Eight Houthi drones targeting Saudi Arabia were also intercepted, the coalition said.
Other countries, such as the United States, Russia and France, as well as the UN, have also condemned the attack on Emirati soil.
The rebels have previously threatened to target Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the shining crown jewels of the United Arab Emirates, which opened its first nuclear power plant last year.
“Clear warning” Abdul Ilah Hajar, adviser to the president of the Houthi Supreme Political Council in Sanaa, said it was a warning shot from the rebels.
“We sent them a clear warning message by hitting places that are not of great strategic importance,” he told AFP.
“But it is a warning that if the United Arab Emirates continues its hostility towards Yemen, it will not be able to withstand the coming strikes in the future.”
Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry condemned “in the strongest possible terms the cowardly terrorist attack” while Bahrain and Qatar also criticized the strikes.
The incident occurred two weeks after the rebels hijacked the UAE-flagged Rwabee and released images allegedly showing military equipment on board.
The United Arab Emirates said Rwabee, whose 11 crews are now being held hostage, was a “civilian cargo ship” and called the hijacking a “dangerous escalation” in bustling Red Sea shipping.
The rebels later rejected a demand from the UN Security Council that the ship be released immediately, saying that it “did not carry … toys for children but weapons for extremists”.
The Yemeni conflict has been a disaster for millions of its citizens who have fled their homes, with many on the brink of starvation, in what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The United Arab Emirates joined the coalition against the Houthis before announcing a change in 2019.
The pro-government Giants Brigade troops, backed by the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates, recently struck a significant blow against the rebels by recapturing three districts of the Shabwa government.
The clashes were part of an upsurge in violence in the shattered country, where the war is being fought on several fronts.
( Jowhar with AFP)