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Houthi missile intercepted over Riyadh amid coronavirus lockdown, two wounded

Assault comes as parties in Yemen's long conflict earlier this week expressed support of UN call for ceasefire to protect civilians from coronavirus pandemic
Patriot missile battery near Saudi Arabia's Prince Sultan Air Base at al-Kharj earlier this year (AFP)

Saudi air defences intercepted ballistic missiles over Riyadh and a city on the Yemen border late Saturday, leaving at least two civilians wounded in the capital that is under curfew in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Multiple explosions shook Riyadh in the attack, which the Saudi-led military coalition blamed on Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi rebels who have previously targeted Saudi cities with missiles, rockets and drones.

The Houthis on Sunday claimed responsibility for the attack, their first major assault on Saudi Arabia since September, when they offered to halt attacks on the kingdom after devastating twin strikes on Saudi oil installations.

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"Two ballistic missiles were launched towards the cities of Riyadh and Jizan," the official Saudi Press Agency reported, citing the coalition fighting the rebels.

Their interception sent shrapnel raining on residential neighbourhoods in the cities, leaving two civilians wounded in Riyadh, a civil defence spokesman said in a separate statement released by SPA.

A military spokesman for the Houthis on Sunday said the group's forces had launched rockets and drones at "sensitive" sites in the Saudi capital Riyadh and at economic and military sites in Jizan, Najran and Asir, near the Yemeni border.

Spokesman Yahya Saria said Zulfiqar missiles and Samad 3 drones were launched at Riyadh, and other drones and missiles at the southern areas.

Saria warned of further "painful operations" against Saudi Arabia if aggression against Yemen continued.

At least three blasts rocked the capital, which is under a 15-hour coronavirus curfew, just before midnight, said AFP reporters.

Jizan, like many other Saudi cities, faces a shorter dusk-to-dawn curfew.

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.

The call coincided with the fifth anniversary of regional power Saudi Arabia's intervention in Yemen's civil war, at the helm of a military coalition supporting the internationally recognised government against the Houthi rebels. 

Yemen's broken health-care system has so far not recorded a case of the Covid-19 illness, but aid groups have warned that when it does hit, the impact will be catastrophic in a country already regarded as facing the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile is scrambling to limit the spread of the disease at home. The kingdom's health ministry has reported 1,203 coronavirus infections and four deaths from the illness so far.

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