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Saudi Arabia reports fire at Jizan oil terminal as Houthis escalate attacks

Rebels say they also targeted King Abdelaziz military base in Dammam and military sites in Najran and Asir
Saudi-backed forces are also under pressure as the Houthis battle towards Marib, the Yemeni government's last northern stronghold in the war-ravaged country (AFP)

A projectile attack sparked a fire at an oil terminal in southern Saudi Arabia, the country's energy ministry said on Friday, on the sixth anniversary of a Riyadh-led military intervention in Yemen.

"A projectile attack on a petroleum products distribution terminal in Jizan... resulted in a fire in one of the terminal's tanks," the energy ministry said in a statement published by the official Saudi Press Agency, adding that no casualties were reported.

Strongly condemning the "cowardly attack", the ministry said the strike was not just an assault on the kingdom but the world economy and global energy security.

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The Saudi-led coalition battling Houthi forces in Yemen said on Thursday it had intercepted and destroyed several explosive-laden drones aimed at Saudi Arabia, state TV reported.

The coalition said the Houthis attempted to target universities in both Najran and Jazan, Saudi cities near the Yemeni border. 

The coalition said it had destroyed the one targeting Najran, as well as six additional explosive-laden drones fired by the Houthis aimed at the kingdom.

On Friday, the Houthi rebels said they had launched attacks against several Saudi Aramco facilities and military sites in the kingdom, Reuters reported.

Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea said on Twitter that the group had targeted King Abdelaziz military base in Dammam and military sites in Najran and Asir. 

Sarea also said they targeted Aramco facilities in Ras al-Tanura, Rabigh, Yanbu and Jizan.

The upsurge in cross-border attacks comes even as the United States pushes anew for a cessation in hostilities, with Washington's special envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking set to return to the Middle East to press for a ceasefire in the war-torn country.

'Nothing new'

Saudi Arabia on Monday offered the Houthis a "comprehensive" UN-supervised ceasefire, as part of a series of fresh proposals aimed at ending the catastrophic six-year conflict.

The kingdom also proposed to reopen the international airport in Sanaa, the rebel-held Yemeni capital, and restart political negotiations between the warring sides.

But the Houthis swiftly dismissed the initiative as "nothing new" as they reiterated their demand that a Saudi-led air and sea blockade on Yemen be completely lifted.

The coalition says it enforced a naval and air blockade to prevent the smuggling of weapons to the rebels from Iran, allegations Tehran denies.

Lenderking travelled to the Middle East on Thursday for discussions to "promote a lasting ceasefire and peace agreement" in Yemen, along with efforts to address the country's humanitarian crisis, the State Department said.

The Biden administration is also mounting a renewed push to end the conflict. On his previous visit to the region last month, Lenderking made contact with the Houthis in Oman, sources told AFP.

Naval drills

Saudi Arabia's ceasefire offer, the second since last year, marks what analysts call a public exercise by the kingdom to portray the Houthis as aggressors while it seeks a way out of the military quagmire in Yemen.

Riyadh led a military coalition into Yemen in March 2015 to prop up the internationally recognised government, but it has struggled to oust the rebels.

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Amid a surge in Houthi missile and drone attacks on the kingdom, Saudi Arabia last Sunday began naval drills in the Gulf in a bid to boost the security of its oil fields, state media reported.

Saudi-backed forces are also under pressure as the Houthis battle towards Marib, the Yemeni government's last northern stronghold in the war-ravaged country.

'This war has to end'

Yemen on Friday marks the sixth anniversary of the Saudi-led military coalition's involvement in the war.

In December, the UN humanitarian office estimated a death toll of at least 233,000 deaths in the Yemen conflict, mostly civilians, including around 100,000 combat deaths.

The conflict is described by the United Nations as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, with the majority of Yemenis dependent on aid and millions facing hunger. 

Cuts in international aid to Yemen threaten widespread famine this year, aid agencies have warned. 

In February, US President Joe Biden announced the end of US support for offensive operations by the Saudi-led coalition, in a major policy reversal from the previous administration that may alter the course of the conflict.

"This war has to end. And to underscore our commitment, we're ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arm sales," Biden said in his first major foreign policy speech.