JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — A massive fire broke out Friday at an oil depot in Jeddah ahead of an F1 race in the Saudi Arabian city, according to the videosYemen’s Houthi rebels admit to launching a series of attacks on the kingdom.
While Saudi Arabia and its oil juggernaut, Saudi Aramco, did not immediately acknowledge the blaze, it appears to be centered on the same fuel depot the Houthis had attacked in recent days.
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The attacks come as Saudi Arabia still leads a coalition battling the Iran-backed Houthis, who seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September 2014. The kingdom, which entered the war in Yemen in 2015, was criticized internationally for its airstrikes which killed dozens of civilians – which the Houthis are pointing the finger at when they launch drones, missiles and mortars into the kingdom.
The Northern Jiddah Bulk Plant is just southeast of the city’s international airport, a crucial hub for Muslim pilgrims heading to Mecca. Videos of the fire matched known geographic features around the plant.
The Saudi Arabian Oil Co., known as Saudi Aramco, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Those on the F1 track could see the large cloud of black smoke in the distance. The cause of the fire was not immediately known.
The second Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah takes place on Sunday, although some have raised concerns over recent attacks targeting the kingdom.
F1 said in a statement that: “The current position is that we await further information from the authorities on what has happened.” F1 did not specify.
However, Yemen’s Houthi rebel-run al-Masirah satellite news channel said more details would be released later on their attacks.
The Houthis did not immediately claim they were behind Jeddah’s blaze on Friday.
Meanwhile, Saudi state television acknowledged attacks in the city of Dhahran targeting water tanks that damaged vehicles and homes. Another attack targeted an electricity substation in an area of southwestern Saudi Arabia near the Yemeni border, state television said.
The North Jiddah Bulk Plant stores diesel, gasoline and jet fuel for use in Jeddah, the kingdom’s second largest city. It accounts for more than a quarter of all of Saudi Arabia’s supplies and also provides essential fuel for the operation of a regional desalination plant.
The Houthis have twice targeted the factory in northern Jeddah with cruise missiles. One attack took place in November 2020. The latest took place on Sunday as part of a wider Houthi barrage.
At the time of the 2020 attack, the targeted tank, which has a capacity of 500,000 barrels, contained diesel fuel, according to a recent report by a UN group of experts examining the war in Yemen. Repairing it after the last attack cost Aramco about $1.5 million.
UN experts have described the facility as a “civilian target”, which the Houthis should have avoided after the 2020 attack.
“Although the facility also supplies the Saudi military with petroleum products, it primarily supplies civilian customers,” the panel said. “Had the factory been out of service for any significant period of time, the impact on the kingdom’s economy as well as the well-being of the people of the western region would likely have been significant.”
Cruise missiles and drones remain difficult to defend against, although the United States recently sent a significant number of Patriot anti-missile interceptors to Saudi Arabia to resupply the kingdom amid Houthi attacks.
In September, the AP reported that the United States had removed its own Patriot and THAAD defense systems from Prince Sultan Air Base outside Riyadh.
The attacks have renewed questions about the kingdom’s ability to defend itself against Houthi fire as a year-long war in the Arab world’s poorest country rages on with no end in sight. It also comes as Saudi Arabia has issued an unusually stern warning that it is unable to guarantee its oil production will not be affected by further attacks – which could push global prices even higher. energy in Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.