SANAA, Yemen (AFP) – Hundreds of thousands of Houthi rebel supporters flooded the streets of Yemen’s capital Monday to mark three years of war, hours after Riyadh said it had intercepted seven missiles fired from rebel territory.
A Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen on March 26, 2015 to try to restore the government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi after the Iran-backed Shiite Houthis and their allies took over large parts of the country, including the capital Sana’a.
After the missile attacks that resulted in the first reported death in the Saudi capital, Sanaa’s Sabaeen Square on Monday was a sea of Yemeni flags as rebel authorities ordered all schools and government offices shut for the anniversary.
Houthi supporters carried portraits of rebel chief Abdulmalik al-Houthi and speakers blasted out a fiery speech by Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanon’s powerful Shiite movement allied with the insurgents, praising the “steadfastness” of the Yemeni people.
War songs, poems and speeches condemning the United States, the main arms supplier for the Saudi-led coalition, echoed across the square.
On a stage, male dancers in traditional clothing with rifles slung over their shoulders performed for the crowd.
“No one can speak on behalf of the Yemeni people.People taking to the streets today is the real voice,” Ibtisam al-Mutawakel, head of a Houthi cultural committee, told AFP.
About 10,000 Yemenis have been killed and 53,000 wounded since the start of the coalition intervention in Yemen, which triggered what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The rebels remain in control of the capital, northern Yemen and the country’s largest port.
Saudi authorities announced Sunday night they had intercepted seven missiles fired from Yemeni territory, including one that caused the death of an Egyptian laborer in Riyadh, killed by falling shrapnel.
The Houthis said on their Al-Masirah television that Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport was among the targets.
“This aggressive and hostile action…proves that the Iranian regime continues to support the armed group with military capabilities,” coalition spokesman Turki al-Malki said.
Abdul-Moteleb Ahmed, 38, died instantly in his bed when what appeared to be burning shrapnel struck his ramshackle room in Riyadh’s Um al-Hammam district, leaving a gaping hole in the roof, according to witnesses interviewed by AFP at the site.
Three other Egyptian labourers in the same room were wounded and hospitalised, they said.
“He was the father of two young children and the sole breadwinner for his family,” another roommate said, standing amid smashed furniture and scattered piles of debris.
Experts have cast doubt on the near-perfect interception rate reported by Saudi Arabia, which says it relies on a U.S.-made Patriot missile defence system.
Britain on Monday urged Iran to “stop sending in weapons which prolong the conflict,” while the U.S. State Department said Washington would support the Saudis’ “right to defence their borders against these threats.”
U.S. ‘directing’ war
After multiple rounds of failed U.N.-brokered peace talks, the world body’s special envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, threw in the towel last month.
Rebel leaders have sought to highlight the role of the United States in the Saudi-led intervention.
At Monday’s rally, Saleh al-Sammad, head of the rebels’ Supreme Political Council, said the rebels were “ready to reach an understanding” to end the intervention and the coalition’s blockade of Yemen.
“It is the Americans who are directing this aggression and participating directly on a number of fronts,” Sammad told the rally.
The Hadi government, for its part, said Monday that the overnight attacks on Saudi Arabia amounted to “an open rejection of peace.”
The U.S. Senate last week rejected a bipartisan bid to end American involvement in Yemen’s war, voting down a rare effort to overrule presidential military authorization.
The U.S. has provided weapons, intelligence and aerial refuelling to the Saudi-led coalition.
Washington formally approved defence contracts worth more than $1 billion with Riyadh last Thursday during a high-profile visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.