THERE are reports of casualties on the ground after Saudi Arabian Patriot missiles were launched into the sky in a desperate bid to defend the capital city of Riyadh.

The attack by Houthi rebels is believed to have involved a Scud-like long-range missile fired out of Yemen, the scene of a long-running civil war in which Saudi Arabia has attempted to intervene.

Video footage of a series of last-minute Patriot launches is streaming out of Riyadh, all showing fast-moving flares leaping into the night sky towards another - more constant - flare of the approaching missile.

Debris - including what appears to be a failed Patriot missile - have fallen on a Riyadh residential suburb. One object, appearing to be a rocket motor, fell on a major freeway.

A Saudi military spokesman has confirmed one person was killed and several injured when part of a missile fell on a house.

Unconfirmed reports from the Houthi-run SABA news agency claim a series of missiles - including Qaher-2, Burkan-2H and Bader-1 types - were launched in a simultaneous attack on Saudi Arabia's Riyadh International Airport, Najran airport and Jizan Regional Airport.

Al Arabiya news says seven missiles were fired at Saudi Arabia in total, three of which went towards Riyadh, two towards Jazan, and one each at Khamis Mushait and Najran.

The missiles arrived over their targets about 11.30pm local time. Saudi state television has confirmed the attack, and residents of Riyadh have been reporting large explosions - with walls shaking and some windows breaking.

It's not the first time Riyadh has been attacked.

There have been several reports of US-supplied Patriot missiles being used to defend the capital during the past last year. One of the most recent attacks saw a missile destroyed on the outskirt's of Riyadh's airport.

Saudi Arabia claims to have destroyed all incoming attacks so far.

Civil war has wracked the Arab world's poorest country and become a proxy battle between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran.

It is now in its fourth year.

The fighting pits Iran-backed Shiite Houthi rebels against Yemen's internationally recognised government, which is allied with a Saudi-led military coalition.

The war started in March 2015 when the coalition began pounding the Houthis with air strikes after they took control of the capital, Sanaa.

The stalemated war has damaged Yemen's infrastructure, crippled its health system and pushed it to the brink of famine. The country now suffers the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 22.2 million people in need of assistance. Malnutrition, cholera and other diseases have killed or sickened thousands of civilians over the years.

Newly recruited Houthi fighters chant slogans during a gathering in the capital Sanaa to mobilize more fighters to battlefronts to fight pro-government forces in several Yemeni cities. Picture: AFP
Newly recruited Houthi fighters chant slogans during a gathering in the capital Sanaa to mobilize more fighters to battlefronts to fight pro-government forces in several Yemeni cities. Picture: AFP

MOUNTING OUTRAGE

The latest attack comes a short time after the leader of Yemen's Shiite rebels lashed out at the United States, accusing it of fermenting the war in his country through a Saudi-led coalition and even going so far as to claim that US ally Israel is participating in attacks in Yemen.

Abdel-Malek al-Houthi's remarks were published in a front-page interview with the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, along with a photo of him dressed in a traditional Yemeni robe with a dagger worn on a belt.

Al-Houthi alleges the US saw the war in Yemen "as a golden opportunity to seek control" of the region.

He says Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - two top nations in the coalition against his rebels, known as Houthis - wouldn't have "entered the war ... without American desire and supervision."

The US has been backing the Saudi-led military campaign against Houthi rebels, despite criticism over the heavy civilian casualty toll.

The Trump administration told Congress last week that it plans to approve an arms sale to Saudi Arabia valued at more than $1 billion. The State Department said the package includes up to about 6700 US-made antitank missiles, along with servicing, maintenance and parts for helicopters and tanks already in the kingdom's arsenal.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is currently visiting the US.

Vehicles belonging to Yemeni forces loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni president drive along a road they took control of from Shiite-Houthi rebels in a mountainous region northwest of the central city of Taiz. Picture: AFP
Vehicles belonging to Yemeni forces loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni president drive along a road they took control of from Shiite-Houthi rebels in a mountainous region northwest of the central city of Taiz. Picture: AFP

UN APPEAL

Warring sides in Yemen and their international backers must stop blocking or delaying aid deliveries, a top official in the UN children's agency said Sunday, warning that such practices have contributed to worsening malnutrition among children and hampered efforts to fight cholera.

Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF's director for the Middle East and North Africa, briefed reporters in the Jordanian capital of Amman on Sunday, after returning from Yemen.

He called for an end to what he said was a brutal war against Yemen's 11 million children.

In the absence of a political settlement, the combatants and their backers must ensure free access for aid shipments, without conditions, he said.

Cappelaere said precious weeks and months have been lost in haggling over the delivery of key supplies, such as solar power equipment, water pipes and fuel, to ensure access to clean water as aid agencies try to contain cholera and diarrhoea.

"The minimum we should be asking for is that all children, boys and girls, in every single part of Yemen are reached with the minimum assistance," he said.

Last year, more than one million Yemenis suffered from cholera and diarrhoea, he said, adding that the next outbreak is likely only weeks away, with the start of the rainy season.

He said severe acute malnutrition among children has doubled in the past three years, from 200,000 in 2015.



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