Yemeni rebels launch barrage of missile strikes against Saudi energy facilities

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Yemen’s Houthi rebels unleashed one of their most intense barrages of drone and missile strikes on Saudi Arabia’s critical energy facilities on Sunday, sparking a fire at one site and temporarily cutting off oil production on another.

The salvo marked a serious escalation in rebel attacks on the kingdom as the war in Yemen rages into its eighth year and peace talks stall.

The attacks caused no casualties, the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen said, but hit sites belonging to one of the world’s largest energy companies and damaged civilian vehicles and homes. The coalition also said it destroyed an explosive-filled remote-controlled boat sent by the Houthis to the busy southern Red Sea.

Hours after oil giant Aramco CEO Amin H. Nasser told reporters that the attacks had had no impact on oil supplies, Saudi Arabia’s energy ministry acknowledged that a strike by drone targeting the Yanbu Aramco Sinopec Refining Company had caused “a temporary reduction in production at the refinery”.

The disruption, as oil prices climb in an already tight energy market, “will be offset by inventory,” the ministry said, without giving further details.

Another airstrike later in the day hit a fuel tank at an Aramco distribution station in the port city of Jeddah and started a fire. Later that night, the roar and thump of missile interceptors rocked the port city as the Saudi military coalition said it destroyed more projectiles over Jeddah. Residents posted images on social media showing streaks of light from missile defenses crossing the dark sky.

The relentless wave of strikes revealed the rebels’ increasing range and accuracy and the lingering gaps in the kingdom’s air defenses. A sophisticated strike in 2019 on Aramco’s oil facilities destroyed half of the kingdom’s oil production and threatened to trigger a regional crisis – an attack which the United States and Riyadh say later came from Iran.

Sunday’s attacks came as the world’s largest oil company, Saudi state-backed Aramco, reported profits jumped 124% in 2021 to $110 billion, a jump fueled by concerns renewed regarding global supply shortages and soaring oil prices.

Aramco, also known as Saudi Arabian Oil Co. 2222,
+0.35%,
released its annual results after weeks of intense volatility in energy markets triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The international oil benchmark Brent BRNK22,
+4.65%
climbed to over $107 on Sunday after nearly hitting a high of $140 earlier this month. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have so far resisted Western calls to increase oil production to make up for the loss of Russian oil as gasoline prices soar.

Yehia Sarie, spokesman for the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen, said the rebels had launched “a vast and extensive military operation” in retaliation for the Saudi-led “aggression and blockade” that turned much of Yemen into a desert.

The escalation followed a flurry of diplomacy over the weekend in Oman’s capital, Muscat. UN special envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg met with the Houthi chief negotiator and Omani officials to discuss “a possible truce during the holy month of Ramadan” in early April, the UN mission said. ‘UN.

The White House condemned the attacks, accusing Iran of providing the Houthis with missile and drone parts, as well as training and expertise.

“It is time to end this war, but that can only happen if the Houthis agree to cooperate with the United Nations,” said US national security adviser Jake Sullivan. “The United States fully supports these efforts.”

The Saudi-led military coalition reported airstrikes on a series of facilities: an Aramco liquefied gas plant in the port of Yanbu on the Red Sea, an oil storage plant in Jeddah, a desalination plant in Al-Shaqeeq on the Red Sea coast and an Aramco oil facility in the southern border town of Jizan, among others.

The extent of damage to Saudi infrastructure remains unclear and the ministry said only the Yanbu refinery experienced a temporary drop in output. A joint venture between Aramco and China, the $10 billion Yanbu Aramco Sinopec Refining Company on the Red Sea pumps 400,000 barrels of oil a day.

The Saudi Press Agency shared photos of fire trucks dousing leaping flames with water and a trail of rubble forged by shrapnel that crashed through apartment ceilings and walls. Other images showed wrecked cars and giant craters in the ground.

The barrage comes days after the Saudi-based Gulf Cooperation Council invited Yemen’s warring parties to peace talks in Riyadh – an offer rejected outright by the Houthis, who demanded that the negotiations take place in a “neutral” country.

Negotiations have failed since the Houthis attempted to seize oil-rich Marib, one of the last strongholds of the Saudi-backed Yemeni government in the north of the country.

Yemen’s brutal war erupted in 2014, after the Iran-backed Houthis seized the country’s capital, Sanaa. Saudi Arabia and its allies launched a devastating air campaign to dislodge the Houthis and restore the internationally recognized government.

But years later, the war has descended into a bloody stalemate and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

Coalition airstrikes hit civilian targets in Yemen such as hospitals, telecommunications centers and wedding parties, drawing widespread international criticism.

Repeated Houthi cross-border attacks have rattled global energy markets and increased the risk of production disruptions at Aramco sites.

As part of its 2021 report, Aramco said it was delivering on its promise to pay quarterly dividends of $18.75 billion — $75 billion last year — due to the company’s commitments to shareholders. approaching its IPO. Almost all of the dividend money goes to the Saudi government.

Despite growing efforts by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to diversify the Saudi economy away from oil, the kingdom remains heavily dependent on oil exports to fuel government spending.

Buoyed by its revenue surge in 2021, Aramco said it plans to increase capital spending by $40 billion to $50 billion this year to meet growing energy demand, a sizable increase from spending on $31.9 billion from last year.

Aramco shares rose more than 3% on Sunday to trade for around 43.20 riyals ($11.50) per share on Riyadh’s Tadawul stock exchange.

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