August 17, 2019 / 8:44 AM / a month ago

Houthi drone attack on Saudi oilfield causes gas fire, output unaffected

DUBAI (Reuters) - A drone attack launched by Yemen’s Houthi group on an oilfield in eastern Saudi Arabia on Saturday caused a fire at a gas plant but had no impact on oil production, state-run oil company Saudi Aramco said.

A Houthi military spokesman said earlier that the group had targeted the Shaybah oilfield with 10 drones, in what he said was the “biggest attack in the depths” of the kingdom, the world’s top oil exporter, by the Iran-aligned group.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih described Shaybah as a “vital facility”.

“The target of this attack is the safety of global oil supply, not just the kingdom; it constitutes a threat to the global economy,” he said in comments published by the official Saudi Press Agency.

Saudi Aramco said there were no injuries and no interruptions to oil operations.

“Saudi Aramco’s response team controlled a limited fire this morning at the Shaybah NGL (natural gas liquids) facility,” the company said in a statement.

Shaybah is more than 1,000 km (600 miles) away from Houthi-controlled territory in northwestern Yemen.

The field is located near the border with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia’s main partner in the Sunni Arab coalition that has been battling the Houthis since 2015 in a bid to restore Yemen’s ousted pro-Saudi government.

“The drone operation today is an important warning to the Emirates,” said the Houthis’ leader, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, in comments tweeted by a pro-Iranian news website, Union News.

That government was driven from the capital Sanaa by the Houthis in late 2014. The war has been in military stalemate for years.

The Houthis have stepped up cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia in recent months.

“POWERS OF AGGRESSION”

“We promise the Saudi regime and the powers of aggression bigger and wider operations if the aggression continues,” the Houthi military spokesman said, according to tweets by the group’s Al Masirah TV.

The conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Muslim Iran.

In May, the Houthis claimed responsibility for a drone attack on two oil pumping stations in Saudi Arabia that caused a small fire, but did not disrupt output or exports.

Falih called the latest attack a “terror and sabotage act” in line with previous targeting of Saudi pipelines and tankers in the Gulf, referring to attacks in May and June on oil tankers that Washington has blamed on Iran. Tehran denies that accusation.

The coalition has responded to the Houthi drone attacks with air strikes on Houthi targets in Sanaa and other areas held by the group, which controls most large urban centres in Yemen.

The violence is complicating U.N.-led peace efforts to ease tensions between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia to pave the way for political talks to end the war, which has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed millions to the brink of famine.

Riyadh has accused Tehran of supplying the Houthis with the missiles and drones used in attacks on Saudi cities, a charge both Iran and the group reject. The Houthis say they manufacture their own weapons and are fighting a corrupt system.

Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli and Rania El Gamal; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Gareth Jones

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