Yemen rebels attack oil depot in Saudi city hosting F1 race

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) – Yemen’s Houthi rebels attacked an oil depot Friday in the Saudi city of Jeddah ahead of the kingdom’s Formula 1 race — their most high-profile attack to date that threatened to disrupt the upcoming Grand Prix.

The attack targeted the same fuel depot that the Houthis attacked in recent days, the Al-Sayeb factory in northern Jeddah which is southeast of Medina International Airport, an important center for Muslim pilgrims heading to Mecca.

The Saudi Arabian Oil Company, known as Saudi Aramco, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Saudi authorities acknowledged a “hostile operation” by the Houthis that targeted the warehouse, without describing the weapon used in the attack.

The attacks came as Saudi Arabia continues to lead a coalition fighting the Iran-backed Houthis, who seized the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in September 2014. The kingdom, which entered the war in Yemen in 2015, has come under international criticism for its deadly air strikes. Dozens of civilians – something the Houthis refer to as they fire drones, missiles and mortars into the kingdom.

Brigadier General. Major General Turki al-Maliki, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, said that two tanks were damaged and put out without casualties.

“This hostile escalation targets oil facilities and aims to undermine energy security and the backbone of the global economy,” the official Saudi Press Agency quoted al-Maliki as saying. These hostile attacks had no effect or repercussions in any way, shape or form on public life in Jeddah.

An Associated Press photojournalist covering training sessions at the Formula 1 track in Jeddah saw smoke rising in the distance to the east, shortly after 5:40 p.m. As the flames rose, the tops of the bulk factory tanks were clearly visible 11.5 kilometers (7 miles) away. .

The drivers ran until the evening, until the fires caught on.

The second-ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah On Sunday, though, some feared recent attacks targeting the kingdom.

“The situation at the moment is that we are awaiting more information from the authorities about what happened,” F1 said in a statement. F1 did not go into details.

The Al Masirah satellite news channel run by Yemen’s Houthi rebels later claimed to have attacked the Aramco facility in Jeddah, along with other targets in Riyadh and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Saudi state television also acknowledged that there had been attacks in the city of Dhahran targeting water tanks that destroyed vehicles and homes. State television said that another attack targeted a power substation in the southwestern region of Saudi Arabia, near the Yemeni border.

The bulk plant in northern Jeddah stores diesel, gasoline and jet fuel for use in Jeddah, the second largest city in the Kingdom. It accounts for more than a quarter of Saudi Arabia’s total supply, and also provides the fuel necessary to operate a regional desalination plant.

The Houthis twice targeted a factory north of Jeddah with cruise missiles. One attack occurred in November 2020. The latest attack on Sunday was part of a broader offensive by the Houthis.

At the time of the 2020 attack, the target tank, which has a capacity of 500,000 barrels, was containing diesel fuel, according to a recent report by a United Nations panel of experts looking into the Yemen war. Repairing it after the latest attack cost Aramco about $1.5 million.

UN experts described the facility as a “civilian target” that the Houthis should have avoided after the 2020 attack.

“While the facility supplies the Saudi military with petroleum products, it supplies mostly civilian customers,” the committee said. “If the factory is out of service for a long time, the impact on the kingdom’s economy as well as on the well-being of the residents of the western region is likely to be significant.”

Cruise missiles and drones remain difficult to defend, although the United States recently sent a large number of Patriot anti-missile interceptors to Saudi Arabia to resupply the kingdom amid Houthi attacks..

In September, the Associated Press reported that the United States had removed its Patriot and THAAD defense systems from Prince Sultan Air Base outside Riyadh..

The attacks have renewed questions about the kingdom’s ability to defend itself from Houthi fire as the years-long war continues in the Arab world’s poorest country with no end in sight. It also comes at a time when Saudi Arabia has issued an unusually stark warning It is unable to guarantee that its oil production will not be affected by further attacks – which could push global energy prices higher amid Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Benchmark Brent crude prices briefly rose above $120 a barrel in Friday’s trading.

___

Gambrell reported from Dubai, UAE.