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Huthis continued cross-border attacks on Saudi soil from Yemen. Yemen’s Huthi movement launched series of attacks throughout month. Saudi-led coalition 6 March said it intercepted seven drones launched toward southern town of Khamis Mushayt that hosts major Saudi airbase and one toward Jizan city; 7 March said it intercepted ten drones, including one targeting oil storage yard at Ras Tanura city, and launched airstrikes towards Huthi military targets in Yemen’s capital Sanaa – first strikes on city since beginning of year. Huthis 19 March targeted state-controlled Saudi Aramco oil refinery in capital Riyadh, causing fire. Saudi forces 20 March say they intercepted drone targeting Khamis Mushayt and in response struck Huthi military targets in Sanaa next day. Following Saudi ceasefire proposal 22 March, which Huthis dismissed as “nothing new” (see Yemen), Huthis same day targeted Abha International Airport in south west. Saudi-led coalition 25 March said it intercepted attacks targeting universities in Najran and Jizan cities and destroyed six armed drones; same day announced Huthi projectile had struck fuel tank in Jizan. Huthis 26 March said they targeted Saudi Aramco facilities in Ras al-Tanura, Rabigh, Yanbu and Jizan cities as well as King Abdelaziz military base in Damman and military sites in Najran and Air, vowing to “carry out stronger and harsher military attacks in coming period”. Saudi coalition 28 March claimed it destroyed two explosive-laden boats Huthis allegedly planned to use in “imminent” attack and three drones; 30 March destroyed two additional drones.
Huthis launched cross-border attacks while U.S. sanctioned senior officials for 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Yemen’s Huthis launched series of attacks throughout Feb. Notably, armed group 10, 13 Feb targeted Abha International Airport in south west and 11 Feb launched drone attack on southern town of Khamis Mushayt that hosts major Saudi airbase. Saudi-led coalition 14 Feb said it intercepted two Huthi drones targeting Abha airport. Huthis next day claimed they struck Jeddah and Abha airports. Saudi forces said they intercepted two Huthi drones targeting Abha airport 16 Feb, and two Huthi drones targeting Khamis Mushait 18 Feb. Huthis 28 Feb announced they targeted capital Riyadh with missiles and drones, while threatening to continue attacks. Reports late Feb indicated 23 Jan drone attack on Yamama Palace in Riyadh was launched from Iraqi territory. Declassified U.S. intelligence report 26 Feb concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved operation that led to 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey; U.S. State and Treasury Departments same day announced sanctions on alleged Saudi perpetrators – sanctions, however, did not include Mohammed bin Salman.
Country signed reconciliation deal to end three-and-a-half-year intra-Gulf dispute. Saudi Arabia along with United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain agreed to reopen their land, air and sea borders with Qatar after all four states and Egypt 5 Jan signed al-Ula Declaration at Gulf Cooperation Council summit in capital Riyadh; agreement ends three-and-a-half-year blockade of Doha by three neighbouring states and Egypt who cut ties with Qatar in July 2017. Huthis 17 Jan reportedly launched projectile into Saudi Arabia that hit village in southern Jazan region, injuring three civilians. Saudi forces 23 Jan reportedly intercepted “hostile air target” over Riyadh that was attributed to Yemen’s Huthi movement but claimed by formerly unknown Iraqi group al-Wa'ada al-Haq Brigades (The Righteous Promise). U.S. 26 Jan announced temporary pause on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE; U.S. Sec State Anthony Blinken same day said administration wanted to ensure proposed sales “advances our strategic objectives”. Italy 29 Jan halted “export of missiles and bombs” to Riyadh and UAE, saying “respect for human rights is an unbreakable commitment.”
Huthis throughout month launched cross-border missile attacks on Saudi Arabia. Huthis 10 Sept claimed they launched missile and drone attack from Yemen on “important target” in Saudi capital Riyadh; Saudi state media 20 Sept reported Huthi attack on village in southern Jizan province wounded five civilians. Uptick in Huthi attacks prompted by apparent attempt to force Riyadh into renewing direct talks with Huthi leaders in hope it would allow group to sidestep Yemen’s Hadi govt in peace process; Huthis mid-Sept claimed their communications channels with Saudis have become more active since early Sept. Saudi authorities 28 Sept said security forces detained ten individuals after uncovering “terrorist cell” allegedly linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Saudi efforts to end impasse between Hadi govt and separatists in southern Yemen faltered while hostilities continued with Huthis. In southern Yemen, Riyadh 2 August helped broker agreement between Hadi govt and separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) over reappointment of current PM Maen Abdulmalik Saeed as well as appointments of pro-STC governor and neutral security chief in Aden city, but within days clashes between two sides broke out again in southern governorate of Abyan. STC 25 Aug announced it had withdrawn from Nov 2019 Riyadh agreement, citing “irresponsible behaviour by parties”. Saudi-led coalition 20 Aug said it intercepted drone fired by Huthis from Sanaa, reflecting recent uptick in cross-border attacks. In rare display of unity, Saudi Arabia along with five other members of Gulf Cooperation Council 10 Aug urged UN Security Council to extend arms embargo on Iran.
Cross-border attacks between Saudi Arabia and Huthis intensified while fighting between Saudi-backed Yemeni govt forces and Huthis escalated in northern Yemen. Saudi-led coalition 2 July launched series of airstrikes targeting area around Huthi-held Yemeni capital Sanaa. In retaliation, Huthis 13 July reportedly launched drone and missile attacks targeting oil facility in Saudi city Jizan, Abha airport and military sites in Jizan and Najran cities; no casualties reported. Saudi-led coalition same day said it had intercepted four Huthi missiles and six bomb-laden drones targeting civilians in Saudi Arabia. In north Yemen, Saudi-led coalition 12 July launched airstrike targeting Hajja governorate in north west, killing at least nine civilians, including seven children. Saudi airstrike near al-Hazm, capital of al-Jawf, 15 July killed at least eleven civilians, including several children; UN special envoy next day called for investigation. In Yemen’s south, after Saudi Arabia in June presented new proposal to govt and Southern Transitional Council (STC) on stalled implementation of Nov 2019 Riyadh Agreement, STC 29 July rescinded its April declaration of self-administration and agreed to implement provisions of Riyadh deal, marking progress toward ending months-long power struggle between STC and UN-recognised Yemeni govt; Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi 29 tasked PM Maeen Saeed with forming new govt in accordance with deal. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia 14 July permanently cancelled licence of Qatari-owned broadcaster beIN, citing “monopolistic practices”; move comes after World Trade Organization ruled in June that Saudi Arabia had breached obligations to protect intellectual property of beIN. Saudi Arabia, U.S. and five other Gulf states 15 July imposed sanctions on six targets accused of providing financial support to Islamic State (ISIS) leadership in Iraq and Syria. State media 20 July announced King Salman’s transfer to hospital in capital Riyadh for medical tests. UK’s Foreign Ministry 6 July announced economic sanctions against 20 Saudi nationals suspected of involvement in killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Oct 2018 while UK 7 July announced it would resume exporting arms to Saudi Arabia after one-year moratorium on grounds that Saudi human rights violations in Yemen were “isolated incidents”.
Huthis intensified attacks against Saudi-backed Yemeni govt forces in northern Yemen as well as cross-border strikes into Saudi Arabia. Huthis mid-June intensified cross-border attacks into Saudi Arabia: Saudi-led coalition 13, 22, 23 June reportedly intercepted Huthi drones and missiles they claimed were aimed at civilian targets in provinces along border; no casualties reported but one attack allegedly left some people injured. Huthi forces 23 June reportedly launched airstrikes on Saudi Defence Ministry, military base in Riyadh and military positions in Jizan and Najran; no casualties reported (see Yemen). In north Yemen, Huthi forces mid-June stepped up attacks in Marib and al-Bayda, pushing toward Marib city while consolidating control over northern territory despite Saudi airstrikes. In Yemen’s south, after Saudi Arabia 18 June reportedly presented new proposal to Hadi govt and Southern Transitional Council (STC) on implementation of Nov 2019 Riyadh Agreement, tensions escalated when STC forces 19 June captured Hadibo, capital of contested Socotra island in Gulf of Aden. Hadi govt and southern separatists 22 June agreed to ceasefire in Abyan province, de-escalation in Socotra and talks on implementation of Nov 2019 Riyadh Agreement in Saudi capital Riyadh. Coinciding with three-year anniversary of Gulf crisis, World Trade Organization (WTO) 16 June issued verdict in dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar; WTO said Saudi Arabia had breached obligations to protect intellectual property of Qatari-owned broadcaster by actively supporting Saudi pirate broadcaster. Saudi authorities 25 June reportedly fired warning shots and forced three Iranian vessels from its waters after they did not respond to repeated warnings.
Despite Saudi Arabia’s COVID-19 ceasefire extension in Yemen late April, fighting between Saudi-backed Yemeni government and Huthi forces in northern Yemen continued while struggle between Southern Transitional Council (STC) and government forces in south Yemen threatened to unravel Saudi-brokered Nov 2019 Riyadh Agreement. Fighting between government and allies, and Huthis, in north Yemen continued throughout month despite Saudi Arabia’s 24 April announcement of unilateral ceasefire extension; UN envoy Martin Griffiths in address to UN Security Council 14 May reported “significant progress” toward ceasefire agreement. In Yemen’s south, Saudi-backed govt forces and STC 1 May reached de-escalation agreement after STC’s attempt to take control of Socotra island in Gulf of Aden sparked fighting. Meanwhile, struggle between Saudi-backed govt forces and southern separatists for control of south escalated in Abyan; Riyadh 20 May hosted STC negotiation team to discuss implementation of Nov 2019 Riyadh Agreement (see Yemen). U.S. 7 May announced withdrawal of Patriot antimissile systems and other military equipment from Saudi Arabia, downscaling military build-up initiated in 2019 to counter Iranian threat. NGO Human Rights Watch 9 May reported Prince Faisal bin Abdullah, son of Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah, held in “incommunicado detention” since his arrest late March; authorities reportedly refused to reveal his whereabouts, sparking speculation about forced disappearance. To stem economic impact of COVID-19 outbreak and low oil prices, govt 11 May announced austerity measures, including three-fold increase of value-added tax (VAT) rate to 15% and suspension of living allowance paid to state employees.
Amid COVID-19 outbreak, Riyadh announced and then extended unilateral ceasefire to end hostilities with Huthis in Yemen, and reached agreement to resolve oil price war with Russia. Saudi Arabia 8 April announced unilateral two-week freeze in military operations in Yemen in response to UN appeal to end hostilities amid COVID-19 outbreak; Huthis next day dismissed announcement as ploy, demanded Saudi Arabia end siege on Yemen and lift its blockade of airspace, land borders and ports in Huthi-held areas. In Yemen’s south, Riyadh 1 April expanded deployment of elite forces in Aden amid rising tensions between pro-govt forces and STC; STC 25 April announced self-administration, raising concerns over collapse of Riyadh Agreement. State media 19 April confirmed arrest of at least three senior Saudi officials for involvement in corruption scheme related to COVID-19 outbreak. Saudi Arabia 12 April reached agreement with OPEC, Russia and other oil-producing countries to reduce global oil production by 9.7mn barrels a day after oil price war with Russia broke out early March.
In further consolidation of power, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered arrest of four family members and hundreds of civil servants, and late month govt retaliated against intensified cross-border strikes by Yemen’s Huthi rebels by stepping up airstrikes in Yemen’s north. Mohammed bin Salman 7 March ordered arrest of four high-ranking family members, including brother of King Salman, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, and former crown prince and interior minister, Prince Mohamed bin Nayef, both accused of treason. In largest mass arrests since 2017, anti-corruption commission 15 March detained hundreds of public servants, including military officers; 298 people reportedly charged with corruption. In Yemen, Saudi-led coalition kept up military operations in bid to prevent Huthi forces taking control of Marib governorate in north. Saudi officials 15 March allegedly barred senior officials of southern separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) from flying from Jordanian capital Amman to Aden in south. Angered, STC leaders warned of further unrest in Aden if Riyadh failed to adjust course. Saudi-led coalition, govt, Huthis and other armed actors 25 March expressed support for UN Sec-Gen Guterres’s call for ceasefire in Yemen to counter potential COVID-19 outbreak. Cross-border war escalated late March as Huthis launched drone and missile attacks on Riyadh and Saudi economic and military installations in Saudi provinces along border with Yemen 27-28 March; rebels claimed attacks were in retaliation for Riyadh’s stepped-up air campaign in Jawf and Marib. Riyadh responded with airstrikes on Huthi positions in northern Yemen, Sanaa and Hodeida. After Russia 6 March rejected agreement among members of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to cut oil production due to COVID-19, Saudi Arabia 7 March cut oil prices by nearly 10% sparking oil price war with Russia. To slow spread of COVID-19, govt 7 March closed land borders with Bahrain, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates, 15 March suspended all international flights for two weeks.
Saudi-led coalition stepped up airstrikes against Huthi forces in Yemen’s north, prompting renewed cross-border attacks, and deployed helicopters attack against Hurayzi tribesmen in east. In Yemen, Huthi rebels claimed responsibility for 14 Feb downing of Saudi military jet in al-Jawf governorate; Saudi-led coalition’s retaliatory airstrikes in al-Jawf 15 Feb killed 31 civilians. After Saudi Arabia joined talks between Yemeni govt and Huthis on confidence building measures in Jordanian capital Amman, Yemeni govt 16 Feb agreed in principle with Huthis to organise exchange of up to 1,400 detainees. Saudi airstrikes early Feb slowed Huthi 0ffensive along main front lines in al-Jawf, Saana and Marib governorates, preventing Huthis from taking al-Hazm, capital of al-Jawf, and making push to Marib city, Yemeni govt’s main urban strongholds. In response, Huthis resumed cross-border missile attacks on southern Saudi Arabia. In eastern Yemen, fighting erupted late Feb between Saudi-backed forces and Hurayzi tribesmen in al-Mahra governorate; Saudi military deployed attack helicopters to disperse Omani-backed Hurayzi tribesmen after they blocked Saudi-backed forces from taking control of Shehn border crossing with Oman.
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