RIYADH: Yemen’s Shiite rebels fired rockets and mortars into Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, killing at least two civilians and reportedly capturing five soldiers in an attack showing the insurgents’ ability to launch assaults despite weeks of airstrikes targeting them.
Saudi Arabia’s state airline cancelled flights into the border area of Najran as schools closed early amid the attack. Meanwhile, hundreds of families fled Aden after Houthis advanced into their neighborhoods, firing indiscriminately as they took over surrounding, towering mountains.
In Najran, the shelling killed two Saudi civilians and damaged buildings, Yemeni tribal leaders said. The state-run airline, Saudia, said flights to and from the area would be suspended until further notice, without elaborating.
The tribal leaders, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, also said the Houthis captured five Saudi soldiers in unclear circumstances. Saudi media and defense officials had no immediate comment on the report.
Saudi state television reported schools closed early and quoted Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri as saying that the assault reflects the state of “Houthi chaos.” He added that Saudi Apache attack helicopters returned fire. Aired footage showed burned cars burnt, smoldering houses and debris covering nearby roads.
Last week, three Saudi troops and dozens of rebels were killed in the fighting there.
The assault Tuesday underscored how the Iranian-allied Houthis are still capable of launching major operations despite more than a month of Saudi-led airstrikes targeting them and their allies — military units loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
A Saudi-led coalition began bombing the Houthi rebels and their allies on March 26 in support of exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s embattled government. The airstrikes and fighting on the ground have killed hundreds and displaced at least 300,000 Yemenis.
In Aden, residents said that Houthis advanced into a large section of the city’s Tawahi district, forcing hundreds of families to flee to safer areas using boats. The residents said they had been trapped inside their homes for weeks.
Mona Abdel-Maged, among residents of the area reached by telephone, said a mortar shell had killed her husband, then a second shell killed six men trying to pull his body from the rubble.
“After burying the dead, we would still find torn limbs and body parts in the streets. So we go back and buy them,” she said.
Mona Mohsen, one of the residents, said panic and the sound of gunfire sent people rushing into the streets.
Aden, which Hadi had declared as a temporary capital before fleeing for Saudi Arabia, is one of the main battlegrounds in a war that the U.N. and other aid agencies warn is pushing the impoverished nation into a humanitarian disaster.
Meanwhile Tuesday, member states of Gulf Cooperation Council held a summit in Riyadh where French President Francois Hollande threw his country’s support behind the Saudi-led offensive in Yemen. During his opening speech, he said that France will not hesitate in carrying any action, even militarily, for the sake of its allies.