Saudi Arabia shot down a Scud missile early Saturday fired into the Sunni kingdom by Yemen’s Shia rebels and their allies, the country’s official news agency reported, marking what could be a major escalation in the months long war.
A Patriot missile battery shot down the Scud at around 2.45a.m. Saturday close to the southwestern city of Khamis Mushait, the official Saudi press agency reported. The agency did not report any casualties in the attack.
Saudis on social media reported hearing air raid sirens go off around the city during the attack.
The agency blamed Shia rebels, known as Houthis, and their allies in forces loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Saudi Arabia leads a coalition targeting the rebels in airstrikes that began on 26 March in support of the country’s exiled president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Those strikes have targeted arms cache and other Scud missile sites around the country.
The Houthis began their advance in September, sweeping into the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, and taking over government ministries and other areas. They held top officials, including Hadi, under house arrest until Hadi fled, first to the southern port city of Aden, then to Saudi Arabia as the rebels closed in backed by forces loyal to Saleh.
The Saudi-led air campaign and ground fighting have killed more than 1,000 civilians and displaced more than a million people since mid-March, the spokesman for the UN secretary-general, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters Wednesday.
The offensive has so far failed to force the Houthis to withdraw from any territory they hold or blunt their advance in southern Yemen.
The Saudis and Western powers accuse the Houthis of receiving military support from Shia power Iran as part of a larger proxy war between the Sunni kingdom and the Islamic republic across the Middle East. Tehran and the rebels deny the allegations, though Iran has acknowledged sending humanitarian aid to the Houthis.
The strikes, as well as a Saudi-led air and sea blockade, have caused food, water and medicine shortages, sparking a humanitarian crisis in the Arab world’s poorest country.