RIYADH, July 29, (Agencies): A ballistic missile fired by Yemeni rebels was shot down late Thursday close to Makkah in Saudi Arabia, a month before the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest site, the Arab military coalition fighting in Yemen said.
The missile was intercepted 69 kilometres (43 miles) south of the city in western Saudi Arabia, the coalition said in a statement, calling it “a desperate attempt by Shiite Houthi rebels to disrupt Hajj”, which begins at the end of August.
Occasional ballistic missile attacks, as well as more frequent short-range rocket fire over the southern border, have in the past been conducted after coalition air strikes against the rebels in Yemen and is not the first time rebels have fired in the direction of Makkah.
Nearly two million Yemeni children are “acutely malnourished” and a “vicious combination” of war, hunger and cholera have left the country in desperate need of aid, the United Nations warned this week.
The alarm was raised at the end of a two-day visit by the directors of the World Health Organization, the UN Children’s Fund and the World Food Programme to Yemen, which has seen more than 8,000 people killed and 44,500 wounded since March 2015.
“The missiles continue to be smuggled in due to a lack of controls at the port of Hodeida,” it said in the statement.
It said permits given by the Arab coalition for the delivery of humanitarian aid and commercial cargo were being abused at the port.
The Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen’s government said Shiite Houthi rebels on Saturday used a remote-controlled boat packed with explosives to attack the Red Sea port of Mokha, but without causing casualties.
“On Saturday at dawn, Houthi militiamen targeted the port of Mokha with a remotely guided vessel full of explosives,” a statement from the coalition said.
The statement, published by the official Saudi news agency SPA, said the boat exploded by the quayside, without causing any injuries or damage.
“In carrying out such criminal acts, the rebels are disrupting the flow of humanitarian aid to Yemen, in particular medicines used to fight the rampant cholera epidemic,” the statement said.
Yemen’s Shiite Houthi rebels said on Saturday they targeted a military ship belonging to the United Arab Emirates, part of the Saudi-led coalition fighting them in the country.
The ship, carrying military equipment, was arriving from Eritrea’s Assab port, according to Houthi officials. It is the third ship belonging to the coalition to be targeted off Yemen’s western coast since the beginning of 2017.
The Saudi Press Agency, citing a statement by the coalition, said that Houthis used an explosives-laden boat, which struck the pier close to a group of ships at the Red Sea port of Mocha. It added that there were no casualties or any substantial damage.
Also Saturday, Yemeni officials said that forces loyal to President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi took full control of a key military base, known as Khalid Ibn al-Walid, near Yemen’s west coast.
Clashes that raged over the base between forces loyal to Hadi and Houthis, who controlled it for more than two years, have killed dozens on both sides.
Later Saturtday, other Yemeni officials said that 13 of Hadi’s forces were killed after Houthis attacked a military site south of the city of Taiz, on the southwest coast. They said that five Houthis were killed in the clashes and expected the death toll among Hadi’s forces to rise.
The Saudi-led coalition, backing Hadi’s internationally recognized government, has waged a blistering air campaign since March 2015, seeking to dislodge the Houthis, who seized the capital Sanaa and other areas in 2014.
The coalition, mostly of Arab Sunni countries, aims to restore Hadi back to power.