RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Author)
A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia is accusing Iran of supplying Yemen's Huthi rebels with the ballistic missiles used to attack Riyadh over the weekend and said it is weighing an "appropriate" response.
Displaying wreckage of what Saudi forces said were the missiles used, a coalition spokesman said at a news conference in Riyadh on March 26 that forensic analysis showed the missiles were supplied to the Shi'ite Huthi rebels by their ally Iran.
"The missiles launched against Saudi territory were smuggled from Iran," spokesman Turki al-Malki said, who added that the missiles targeted not only Riyadh but the Saudi cities of Najran, Jizan, and Khamis Mushait.
We "reserve the right to respond against Iran at the right time and right place," Malki said, adding that the response would be "appropriate" as needed to protect the kingdom under international law.
The Pentagon also blamed Iran for the Huthi missile attacks on March 26.
"This follows Iran's pattern of providing advanced weapons to the Huthis," spokeswoman Lieutenant Commander Rebecca Rebarich said in a statement.
"Iran has enabled the conflict in Yemen to spill into neighboring countries and undermines international efforts to resolve the conflict, exacerbating the suffering of the Yemeni people."
The U.S. State Department said Washington would support the Saudis' "right to defend their borders against these threats."
After the weekend attacks, Britain also called on Iran to "stop sending in weapons which prolong the conflict, fuel regional tensions, and pose threats to international peace and security."
Iran did not immediately respond on March 26 to the allegations that it supplied the Huthis, but it accused Britain, which has provided the Saudi-led coalition with some of the weapons used in its devastating bombing campaign in Yemen, of hypocrisy.
"Britain undoubtedly has direct responsibility for the war crimes committed over the past three years in Yemen by selling arms and providing logistical and intelligence support to the countries attacking Yemen," said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi on the ministry's website.
"This country is in no position to accuse other countries and it would be better for it to end as soon as possible its opportunistic and profiteering approach to this blind war," he said.
If the Saudi-led coalition makes good on its threat to respond against Iran, it could mark a sharp escalation in Yemen's three-year civil war, which has been seen as a proxy war between archrivals Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The Huthis on March 26 celebrated their seven missile strikes on the Saudis a day earlier, in what was their largest barrage so far, resulting in the first death and injuries from Huthi fire in the Saudi capital after several sporadic missile attacks last year.
Witnesses said an Egyptian laborer died instantly in his bed when what appeared to be burning shrapnel struck his ramshackle room in Riyadh's Um al-Hammam district, leaving a gaping hole in the roof.
They said three other Egyptian workers in the same room were wounded and hospitalized.
The Huthis said on their Al-Masirah television outlet that Riyadh's international airport was among their targets.
"We praise the successful advance of military capabilities," Huthi political council chief Saleh al-Samad told tens of thousands of supporters rallying in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, on March 26.
"If they want peace, as we have said to them before, stop your air strikes and we will stop our missiles," he said. "If you continue your air strikes, we have a right to defend ourselves by all means available."
Malki charged that the rebels are using the airport in Sanaa to launch missile attacks on Saudi territory. He claimed that the coalition has seized some weapons smuggled from Iran.
The Saudi-led coalition has backed the Yemeni government with an aerial bombing campaign against the Huthis, which captured Yemen's capital three years ago at the start of the war and continue to control it, as well as the nation's largest port.
About 10,000 Yemenis have been killed in the war, with most of the deaths occurring since the coalition bombing campaign started in 2015. Devastation from the war has caused what the United Nations has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Amnesty International, which has criticized both sides in the war for neglecting civilian safety, on March 26 said the "indiscriminate" Huthi missile attack on the Saudi capital "could constitute a war crime."
The rights group has also slammed the Saudi-led alliance for what it said were possible war crimes in Yemen.
Copyright (c) 2010-2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.