In an apparent bid to limit damage caused by its bombing of a funeral gathering in Sanaa, Yemen, killing 140 mourners and injuring hundreds, Saudi Arabia has claimed that the Houthis have targeted the holy city of Mecca with a ballistic missile that was "intercepted and destroyed" 65 kilometers from Mecca.
Mecca is the home of Kaaba, also known as the Grand Mosque, to which all Muslims in the world turn their faces for their daily prayers.
The Yemeni Houthi army's spokesman Brigadier General Sharaf Luqman denied Saudi claim of targeting the holy city of Mecca. He slammed the allegation as "a media war and misleading of public opinion," affirming that his army fighters are "very careful to spare civilian areas, particularly the Islamic holy sites, from any attack." Brigadier Luqman said that Thursday's ballistic missile attack was targeted at the Red Sea city of Jeddah.
The Houthis and their allies, including forces loyal to former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, have a stockpile of Soviet-era Scud missiles and locally designed variants. A Houthi ballistic missile fired earlier this month targeted Taif, home to Saudi Arabia's King Fahd Air Base, which also is near Mecca.
The Associated Press pointed out that invoking Mecca also invigorated support for Saudi Arabia as it leads the stalemated war in the Arab world's poorest country, as well as turned attention away from those starving under a kingdom-led blockade and the civilians killed in its airstrikes.
Gulf Arab countries allied with Saudi Arabia immediately began condemning the attack, suggesting the Houthis intentionally targeted the Islamic world's holiest site, the Kaaba. Many also immediately linked the attack to Iran, further inflaming regional sectarianism.
"The Iranian regime supports a terrorist group that launched its rockets on Mecca," Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nayhan wrote on Twitter. "Is this regime Islamic as it claims?"
In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi dismissed the claims that the Houthis targeted Mecca as "ridiculous." "We advise officials of the [United Arab] Emirates and Saudi Arabia not to use Islamic holy sites for their mean political intentions and not to resort to this sort of hypocritical, rift-making and dangerous hyperbole," Ghasemi was quoted as saying by Iran's ISNA news agency.
Yemen, on the southern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, has been in the midst of a civil war since September 2014 when the Houthis swept into the capital of Sanaa and overthrew the country's western recognized government. In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition of Arab countries began air strikes against the Houthi forces.
However, the human right groups are alarmed at the mounting civilian casualties from the airstrikes, especially the Saudi strike earlier this month on a funeral in Sanaa killing some 140 people and wounded over 600.
The Associated Press reported that more than 10,000 people have been killed or wounded and 3 million of the country's 26 million people have been driven from their homes by the fighting.
In August, a UN report said that the airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen are responsible for the majority of civilians killed in the ongoing conflict.
The Yemeni news agency Saba reported Sunday (Oct 30), at least 60 prisoners were killed and 38 others wounded when the US-backed Saudi-led coalition fighter jets bombed a prison early on Sunday in al- Zaydiya district of al-Hodayda port city. The prison was totally collapsed.
Medical officials told Saba that the death toll could rise in the next hours because a lot of injured were in critical conditions and the hospitals are suffering from acute shortage of medicines due to the 19-month prolonged air, sea and land blockade.
On Saturday, Oct 29, at least 17 civilians, including 11 members of one family, were killed in a Saudi-led coalition airstrike in the war-torn western city of Taiz, Yemeni officials said, adding that the airstrike targeted the house of a citizen in a southern district called al-Salw. Taiz has been fought over between coalition-backed forces and Houthi rebels for the past 18 months.
Human Rights Watch