Yemen's Houthi rebels claim responsibility for oil plant attack as huge fire erupts in Jeddah
The attacks came as Saudi Arabia still leads a coalition battling the Iran-backed Houthis, who seized Yemen’s capital of Sanaa in September 2014
Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea said on Friday that Yemen's Houthis attacked a Saudi Aramco oil facility in Jeddah as part of a wave of drone and missile assaults as a huge cloud of smoke was seen near the Formula One venue in the city.
"We did several attacks with drones and ballistic missiles," the Iran-backed Houthi rebels said in a statement, including an "Aramco installation in Jeddah (and) vital installations in Riyadh".
The attacks came as Saudi Arabia still leads a coalition battling the Iran-backed Houthis, who seized Yemen’s capital of Sanaa in September 2014.
The kingdom, which entered the war in Yemen in 2015, has been internationally criticised for its airstrikes killing that have killed scores of civilians, something the Houthis point to as they launch drones, missiles and mortars into the kingdom.
The North Jiddah Bulk Plant sits just southeast of the city’s international airport, a crucial hub for Muslim pilgrims heading to Mecca. Videos posted online of the blaze corresponded to known geographic features around the plant.
The second-ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jiddah is taking place on Sunday, though concerns had been raised by some over the recent attacks targeting the kingdom.
The F1 said in a statement that: “The position at the moment is that we are waiting for further information from the authorities on what has happened.”
Saudi state television acknowledged attacks in the town of Dhahran targeting water tanks that damaged vehicles and homes. Another attack targeted an electrical substation in an area of southwestern Saudi Arabia near the Yemeni border, state TV said.
Saudi air defences also intercepted and destroyed a ballistic rocket launched towards the port city of Jazan, which caused a "limited" fire to break out at an electricity distribution plant, state media reported.
Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, said earlier this week it would not bear responsibility for any oil supply disruptions to global markets as a result of Houthi attacks that have intensified in the past three weeks.
The North Jiddah Bulk Plant stores diesel, gasoline and jet fuel for use in Jiddah, the kingdom’s second-largest city. It accounts for over a quarter of all of Saudi Arabia’s supplies and also supplies fuel crucial to running a regional desalination plant.
The Houthis have twice targeted the North Jiddah plant with cruise missiles. One attack came in November 2020. The last came on Sunday as part of a wider barrage by the Houthis.
At the time of the 2020 attack, the targeted tank, which has a capacity of 500,000 barrels, held diesel fuel, according to a recent report by a U.N. panel of experts examining Yemen’s war. Repairing it after the last attack cost Aramco some $1.5 million.
The UN experts described the facility as a “civilian target,” which the Houthis should have avoided after the 2020 attack.
“While the facility also supplies the Saudi military with petroleum products, it is mostly supplying civilian customers,” the panel said. “If the plant had been out of service of a significant period, the impact on the kingdom’s economy as well as on the welfare of the residents of the Western region would likely have been significant.”
Cruise missiles and drones remain difficult to defend against, though the US recently sent a significant number of Patriot anti-missile interceptors to Saudi Arabia to resupply the kingdom amid the Houthi attacks.
(With inputs from agencies)