People inspect the site of an airstrike by Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa, Yemen, Thursday, May, 16, 2019. Yemen's human rights minister says heavy fighting is underway in the country's south as rebel Houthis push to gain more territory from government forces and their allies. The clashes come as the Saudi-led coalition carried out airstrikes on the capital, Sanaa, earlier on Thursday, targeting the Houthis and killing at least three civilians. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
The air strikes followed a warning from the United Arab Emirates that there would be retaliation for any Houthi attacks on coalition targets © AP

The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen said it conducted a series of air strikes on Houthi rebels in retaliation for the attacks on the kingdom’s oil infrastructure.

The Houthi-run al-Masirah television channel said six people were killed and dozens injured from the air strikes in the capital Sana’a on Thursday.

The Iran-backed Houthis claimed responsibility for a drone attack on Saudi targets earlier this week. Riyadh said the attack caused “limited damage” to pumping stations run by Saudi Aramco, the state oil company, along its east-west pipeline that were temporarily shut down.

“The attack by the Iranian-backed Houthi militias against the two Aramco pumping stations proves that these militias are merely a tool that Iran’s regime uses to implement its expansionist agenda in the region, and not to protect the people of Yemen as the Houthis falsely claim,” Prince Khaled bin Salman, the kingdom’s deputy defence minister, said on Twitter.

The western-backed coalition launched its intervention in Yemen in 2015 to restore the internationally recognised government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi that had been ousted from power by Houthi rebels. Washington and Riyadh accuse Tehran of smuggling arms to the Houthis, including missiles and drones. Iran denies the allegations.

The air strikes followed a warning from the United Arab Emirates, an important member of the coalition, that there would be retaliation for any Houthi attacks on coalition targets.

Anwar Gargash, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, said on Wednesday night that the coalition would hit back “hard” after the Houthis claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The Houthis’ decision to withdraw from Hodeidah, the main port city in Yemen, while launching missile attacks on Saudi civilian infrastructure was a “strange way” to advance the peace process, Mr Gargash said at a briefing in Dubai late on Wednesday.

But he insisted that the UAE remained committed to working with the United Nations to implement a framework for peace agreed between the warring parties in Stockholm last December. “We can see the best opportunity to move from the military phase to the political phase,” Mr Gargash said. “We will not lose sight of the opportunity to build on and achieve a political process.”

The latest developments come amid rising tension in the region after Saudi Arabia said on Monday its tankers were hit off the coast of the UAE on Sunday. The incident occurred near the Strait of Hormuz, a vital waterway through which almost a third of the globe’s seaborne oil passes.

Saudi Arabia, UAE and Norway notified the UN on Thursday that four commercial ships were targeted and at least three of them were damaged. The governments said in a joint statement that the incident “posed a threat to the safety and security” of international shipping and maritime navigation.

The statement did not mention who the three countries suspected was responsible for the tanker hits. Mr Gargash said the UAE was seeking to calm tensions and would act with “restraint” as it waited for the conclusions of the investigation. The investigation is being carried out by UAE and its allies, including the US and France, and would be ready “within days”.

The US said last week it was deploying an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and other military assets to the region because of Iranian actions, without giving details. Both Washington and Tehran have insisted they do not want war but European diplomats have expressed concerns that the heightened tensions could lead to an “accidental” conflict.

The State Department has ordered the departure of all non-essential staff from its diplomatic missions in Iraq. Germany and the Netherlands have suspended military training programmes in the region.

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