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Yemeni rebel missile shot down near Mecca: Arab coalition

Ballistic missile intercepted 69km south of Mecca one month before religious Hajj pilgrimage
Yemenis supporting Shia Houthi rebels take part in anti-Saudi rally in capital Sanaa (AFP)

A ballistic missile fired by Yemeni rebels was shot down late on Thursday near Mecca in Saudi Arabia, a month before the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Islam's holiest site, the Arab military coalition fighting in Yemen said.

The missile was intercepted 69km south of the city in western Saudi Arabia, the coalition said in a statement, calling it "a desperate attempt by Shiite Houthi rebels to disrupt Hajj", which begins at the end of August.

Occasional ballistic missile attacks, as well as more frequent short-range rocket fire over the southern border, have in the past been conducted after coalition air strikes against the rebels in Yemen.

It is not the first time rebels have fired in the direction of Mecca. 

In October they launched one of their longest-range strikes against Saudi Arabia, firing a ballistic missile that was brought down near the holy city, an attack condemned by Riyadh's Gulf allies.

But the new attack is thought to pose a threat ahead of Hajj, when some two million faithful from across the world will visit the site.

The Houthi rebels and their allies, former members of Yemen's security forces linked to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, began retaliatory attacks against the kingdom two years ago.

The Saudi-led coalition intervened in the country in March 2015 to support President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, who says the rebels are supported by its regional arch-rival Iran.

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