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Houthis escalate attacks on Saudi Arabia, striking oil facility

The Yemen rebel group launched attacks on Saudi Arabia on Friday, hitting an oil facility in Jiddah and other state institutions.

Smoke billows from an oil storage facility in Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coastal city of Jiddah on Friday. (Andrej Isakovic/AFP/Getty Images)
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BEIRUT — Saudi Arabia underwent a widespread and coordinated barrage of attacks on Friday after Yemen’s Houthi rebels launched drones into the neighboring kingdom, targeting oil facilities and other state institutions, the rebel group and Saudi state media said.

The Houthis said their attacks into Saudi Arabia, which stretched over six hours, struck facilities in Jiddah belonging to state controlled Saudi-Aramco, the world’s largest oil company. The group also said it struck the capital Riyadh, two other oil refineries, Aramco facilities in the south of the country, as well as other targets in the south.

Videos spread on social media of the attack on the Jiddah oil facility, showing massive black plumes of smoke rising into the sky, dotted with occasional exploding fireballs. State TV channel al-Ekhbariya released a video of fire damage at an electricity plant in the south of the country, of firefighters putting out fires and blackened husks of concrete.

After the attacks the group’s leader, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, gave a live address on a Houthi-aligned channel. He placed,the blame for the country’s seven-year civil war on the United States, saying that Saudi Arabia is merely the “executor.”

The United States is a major arms supplier to Saudi Arabia, which has used those weapons in its war in Yemen. But under President Biden, who came into office with a promise to “step up our diplomacy to end the war in Yemen,” the United States no longer refuels coalition aircraft and has stopped supporting “offensive” operations in Yemen. However, the peace talks, now in their eighth year, are stalled.

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The Iran-backed Houthi rebels took over Yemen’s capital in 2015, but a Saudi-led coalition launched a military intervention soon after to restore the country’s internationally recognized government. The war has dragged on since, causing a severe humanitarian crisis and widespread hunger.

Throughout the day, the Saudi-led coalition released several statements on the Houthi attacks as they intensified. It said the rebels had struck civilian housing, an electricity plant, and water tanks belonging to the national water company. It later acknowledged the Jiddah attack and that fires that had erupted in two tanks were under control.

The statements did not expand on the extent of the damage to the oil facilities, but said there were no casualties or effect on citizen life in Jiddah, the country’s second-most populous city. There was no immediate statement from Aramco on the extent of damage to its facility, and the effect the attack might have on its oil supply.

The coalition emphasized the danger on the global energy market, saying the Houthi attacks “are a dangerous escalation that threatens the security of energy and the backbone of the global economy.” A statement at 7:11 p.m. local Saudi time tallied the attacks at 16, and repeated that it was “practicing self-restraint for the success of the Yemeni peace talks.”

As Biden pushes for peace, Yemeni rebels ramp up strikes on Saudi Arabia

Houthi attacks into Saudi Arabia have increased in the past week. On Thursday the coalition said it destroyed two booby-trapped boats that approached oil tankers in the Red Sea. It said the boats were launched from the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah in Yemen.

The Houthis also struck Saudi energy facilities in at least three cities over the weekend, prompting Saudi Arabia to issue a statement on Monday saying it would not bear responsibility for any shortages in the global oil supply and asking the international community to stand “firmly” against the Houthis to prevent attacks that “pose a direct threat to the security of petroleum supplies in these highly sensitive circumstances that global energy markets are witnessing.”

Washington has placed pressure on Saudi Arabia to boost oil production as prices surged in the wake of a U.S. ban on Russia oil imports in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But Saudi leaders have grown frustrated with the United States, saying it is not doing enough to counter the Houthi threat.

Saudi Arabia’s ire grew after Biden ended the Houthis’ designation as a terrorist group on humanitarian grounds. Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates have been pushing for a reinstatement of the designation as Houthi missile attacks on the UAE and Saudi Arabia have expanded in the past months.

The United States denounced Friday’s attack. “Unprovoked Houthi attacks against Saudi Aramco’s oil storage facilities in Jeddah as well as attacks against civil facilities in Jizan, Najran, and Dhahran are acts of terrorism aimed to prolong the suffering of the Yemeni people,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.

The United States urged the Houthis to work with the United Nations to de-escalate the conflict.

“The United States stands fully behind those efforts, and we will continue to fully support our partners in the defense of their territory from Houthi attacks,” Sullivan said. “We call on the international community to do the same.”

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