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Plane ablaze in Houthi attack on Saudi airport — state media

By AFP - Feb 10,2021 - Last updated at Feb 10,2021

This handout photo provided by Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Media on Wednesday reportedly shows the wreckage of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or drone) that was used in an attack on Abha International Airport in Saudi Arabia's southern Asir province (AFP photo)

RIYADH — A civilian plane was engulfed in flames on Wednesday after Yemen's Houthi rebels attacked an airport in southern Saudi Arabia, officials said, days after the US moved to delist the insurgents as terrorists.

"A cowardly criminal terrorist attack launched against Abha International Airport in Saudi Arabia by the Houthi militia," state-run Al Ekhbariya television quoted the Riyadh-led military coalition battling the rebels as saying.

"A fire that engulfed a passenger plane due to the Houthi attack on Abha Airport is under control," it added.

The coalition did not report any casualties or say how the attack was carried out, but earlier in the day reported that it had intercepted two "booby trapped" drones in the south.

Targeting the airport constituted "a war crime" and "put the lives of civilian passengers in danger", the official Saudi Press Agency quoted the coalition as saying.

The incident was not immediately claimed by the Iran-backed Houthis, who control much of northern Yemen.

But the rebels appear to be stepping up attacks on the kingdom and on Riyadh-backed Yemeni forces after the United States moved last week to lift a short-lived designation of the Houthis as a terrorist group.

The Houthis have resumed an offensive to seize the Yemeni government’s last northern stronghold of Marib, according to a government source, with dozens of casualties on both sides.

The US State Department on Friday said it had formally notified Congress of its intention to revoke a terrorist designation against the rebels, which had been announced in the closing days of the Trump administration.

The delisting move came a day after US President Joe Biden announced an end to American support for Saudi-led offensive operations in Yemen.

Biden’s decisions last week mark a reversal of policies by his predecessor Donald Trump, a staunch backer of Saudi Arabia and a fierce opponent of Houthi supporter Iran.

Humanitarian groups were deeply opposed to the terrorist designation, saying it jeopardised their operations in a country where the majority of people rely on aid and where they have no choice but to deal with the Houthis.

Biden, who has also halted some weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, called Yemen’s war a “catastrophe” which “has to end”.

The president last week appointed veteran diplomat Timothy Lenderking as a US special envoy for Yemen, who is expected to boost efforts to end the war.

Biden said Lenderking would support a UN push for a ceasefire and revive talks between the Houthis and the government.

Saudi Arabia, which entered the Yemen conflict in 2015 to bolster the internationally recognised government, has repeatedly been targeted with cross-border attacks.

Last month, it said it had intercepted and destroyed a “hostile air target” heading towards the capital Riyadh.

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