Saudi air defenses knock down missile over Riyadh

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A picture taken on March 23, 2020, shows the empty King Fahd road in the Saudi capital Riyadh after authorities imposed a curfew for 21 days to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. (FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP)

Patriot system used to intercept ballistic missile; second projectile destroyed over town near Yemen border

By AGENCIES Today, 4:22 am 

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia’s Air Defense Forces intercepted and destroyed a ballistic missile over the capital around midnight, state media said early Sunday.

Residents of Riyadh reported on social media hearing loud explosions in the middle of the night. Minutes later, state media carried a statement by Saudi Arabia’s military saying it had destroyed a missile over the city.

At least three blasts shook the capital — under a 15-hour coronavirus curfew — just before midnight, according to AFP reporters.

Saudi state TV reported that American Patriot missile defense systems were used in the interception.

There were no immediate reports of injuries. Another missile was also intercepted and destroyed over the southern Saudi city of Jizan, which borders Yemen, according to Saudi-owned media outlets.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels have previously targeted Saudi cities with missiles, rockets and drones, though the missiles rarely reach the capital. Riyadh is around 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) north of the border with Yemen.

It was the first major assault on Saudi Arabia since the Houthis offered last September to halt attacks on the kingdom after devastating twin strikes on Saudi oil installations.

The assault comes after all parties in Yemen’s long conflict offered support on Thursday for the United Nations’ call for a ceasefire to protect civilians from the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Saudi Arabia, the Yemeni government and the rebels all welcomed an appeal from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres for an “immediate global ceasefire” to help avert disaster for vulnerable people in conflict zones.

More than 40,000 people have been displaced by fighting in Yemen since January, adding to the roughly 3.6 million who have fled their homes since the war began five years ago. A number of those fleeing in recent weeks, including women and children, escaped on foot, walking for days without food or water across open desert, according to a recent statement by the United Nations Refugee Agency.

A man inspects rubble after a Saudi-led coalition airstrike in Sanaa, Yemen, February 4, 2018. (Hani Mohammed/AP)

The war has killed more than 100,000 people, many by Saudi-led airstrikes. The war also created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical shortages.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the pillars of the US-backed coalition fighting in Yemen, launched the war after the Houthis seized Yemen’s capital and much of the country’s north in 2014. The coalition intervened to restore the internationally recognized government and push back what Saudi Arabia saw as an emerging Iranian threat on its southern border.

While some Western governments have suspended arms deals with Saudi Arabia over the war, the Trump administration has beefed up America’s military presence in the kingdom in response to threats from Iran. Last year, around 2,500 US troops, a squadron of Air Force F-15 fighter jets and two Patriot missile batteries were deployed to a desert air base just outside Riyadh.

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