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Yemen's Houthis fire missile at Saudi capital ahead of Trump visit

Saudi-led coalition says it intercepted the missile and blew it up over an unpopulated area 180 km from Riyadh
Armed followers of Houthi movement protest against US support for Saudi Arabia, in Sanaa, on 11 May 2017(Reuters)

Just hours ahead of US President Donald Trump's arrival in the country, Saudi Arabia said it had shot down a ballistic missile fired by Yemen's Houthi movement, southwest of the capital Riyadh.

Air defence units "intercepted a ballistic missile that was launched by Houthi militias," and it fell over an unpopulated area 180 km from Riyadh, the Saudi-led coalition said in a statement.

Trump, whose country provides weapons, intelligence and aerial refuelling for the coalition, is due to arrive on Saturday for two days of summits with Saudi, Gulf and Muslim leaders.

The missile would be the longest range attempted by the Houthis and their allies, former members of Yemen's security forces linked to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, since they began retaliatory attacks against the kingdom two years ago.

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

The coalition intervened in Yemen more than two years ago to support President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

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Houthi-run Al-Masirah television said on its Twitter account that the rebels' "rocket forces launched a Volcano-2 (Borkan) ballistic missile on the capital of Saudi Arabia".

This coincided with coalition air strikes against the rebel-held capital Sanaa, other tweets from Al-Masirah said.

Riyadh and Washington accuse Iran of supplying weapons to the Houthis, but a United Nations Panel of Experts in January reported that it "has not seen sufficient evidence to confirm any direct large-scale supply of arms" from Iran, Riyadh's regional rival.

Houthis claim to have locally developed the Borkan missile, but the UN panel said the rebels have "initiated a propaganda campaign claiming the use of locally manufactured, as opposed to improvised, missiles".

It said they have, however, fired Scud-variant short-range ballistic missiles and free-flight rockets.

Saudi Arabia has deployed Patriot missiles to counter such attacks.

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

The rebels insisted that the missile had been fired at Jeddah, the Red Sea city in the sprawling Mecca region, not at the holy city itself.

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