Missile may be act of war’ – Helicopter crash kills Saudi deputy governor
Saudi Arabia and Iran traded fierce accusations over Yemen on Monday, with Riyadh saying a rebel missile attack “may amount to an act of war” and Tehran accusing its rival of war crimes.
Tensions have been rising between Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and predominantly Shiite Iran, who are opposed in disputes and conflicts across the Middle East, from Yemen and Syria to Qatar and Lebanon.
On Monday, a Saudi-led military coalition battling Tehran-backed rebels in Yemen said it reserved the “right to respond” to the missile attack on Riyadh at the weekend, calling it a “blatant military aggression by the Iranian regime which may amount to an act of war.” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir also warned Tehran.
“Iranian interventions in the region are detrimental to the security of neighbouring countries and affect international peace and security. We will not allow any infringement on our national security,” Jubeir tweeted. Saudi forces on Saturday intercepted and destroyed the ballistic missile near Riyadh’s international airport after it was reportedly fired by the Shiite Houthi rebels from Yemen.
It was the first attempted missile strike by the rebels to reach Riyadh and threaten air traffic, underscoring the growing threat posed by the conflict on Saudi Arabia’s southern border. The coalition on Monday sealed off air, sea and land borders in Yemen, where it has been battling rebels in support of the President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s internationally recognised government since 2015.
Iran dismissed the Saudi accusations, saying rebels fired the missile in retaliation for Saudi “war crimes”. An Iranian foreign ministry statement quoted spokesman Bahram Ghassemi as saying the accusations by the coalition were “unjust, irresponsible, destructive and provocative”. Ghassemi said the missile was fired by the Houthis in response “to war crimes and several years of aggression by the Saudis.” The missile attack, he said, was “an independent action in response to this aggression,” and Iran had nothing to do with it. He also called on Riyadh to halt attacks on “defenceless and innocent people as soon as possible and to pave the way for inter-Yemeni dialogue to bring peace to the country.” Critics have accused the coalition of not doing enough to prevent civilian deaths in its air war in Yemen, where more than 8,650 people have been killed since the start of the intervention.
Repeated attempts to bring about a negotiated settlement to the conflict have failed, including a series of UN-backed peace talks, and positions appear to have hardened in recent months. Saudi Arabia has blamed the Houthis for the failed efforts, and on Monday offered rewards totalling $440 million for information on 40 senior officials among the rebels.
The deputy governor of Saudi Arabia’s southern Asir province and several colleagues were killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday, Saudi state TV Ekhbariya reported. Local newspaper Okaz reported the helicopter went down while the officials were taking a tour of an area near the coast in Asir, which borders Yemen. The reports did not elaborate on the cause of the crash.