Riyadh: A Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen intercepted a Huthi rebel drone targeting the kingdom, a spokesman said Wednesday, calling it another violation of an already fragile ceasefire in a key Red Sea province.
The unmanned drone was shot down in Yemeni airspace after the Iran-aligned rebels launched it from Hodeida province, coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki said in comments carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.
Maliki did not report any casualties, but said the operation was a breach of the Hodeida ceasefire deal reached in Sweden last December between the rebels and Yemen’s Saudi-backed government.
The deal has already been marred by reported violations on both sides as UN-led peace efforts falter in Hodeida, the main entry point for the bulk of Yemen’s imports and humanitarian aid.
The rebels denied carrying out Wednesday’s attack. Huthi-run Al-Masirah TV quoted a spokesman as saying “no such operation has been conducted in the past 12 hours”.
Persistent coalition bombing since the Saudi-led intervention March 2015 has exacted a heavy civilian death toll in Yemen.
The Huthis have stepped up missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia in recent weeks, warning that its airports are legitimate targets.
Last Wednesday, the coalition said a rebel missile attack on Abha airport left 26 civilians wounded, vowing “stern action” in response.
Human Rights Watch denounced the strike as an apparent “war crime”, urging the Huthis to immediately stop all attacks on civilian infrastructure in Saudi Arabia.
The attacks come amid spiralling regional tensions with Iran, which Saudi Arabia has repeatedly accused of arming the rebels with sophisticated weapons. Tehran denies the charge.
The coalition intervened in support of the Yemeni government in 2015 when President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi fled into Saudi exile as the rebels closed in on his last remaining territory in and around second city Aden.
Since then, the conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, many of them civilians, relief agencies say.