Satellite images show Yemeni rebels hitting a Saudi oil site again

Yemen’s Houthi rebels this week hit the same oil storage tank in the Saudi city of Jeddah that they hit two years ago.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels hit the same oil storage tank in the Saudi city of Jeddah this week, hitting them two years ago, satellite photos show.

Satellite images from Planet Labs PBC analyzed by The Associated Press on Tuesday show damage to the northern Jeddah bulk plant on Sunday, just south-east of the city’s international airport, a key hub for Muslim pilgrims to Mecca.

The same storage tank – the state-owned Saudi Arabian Oil Company, also known as Saudi Aramco – was described as a Houthi cruise missile in an attack in November 2020.

Sunday’s attack raises new questions about the empire’s ability to protect itself from Houthi fire, as years of war in the Arab world’s poorest country have seen no end. It also comes at a time when Saudi Arabia has issued an unusually strong warning that it is unable to guarantee that its oil production will not be affected by further attacks – which could further push global energy prices into Russia’s war against Ukraine.

On Tuesday, both Saudi government officials and Aramco did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sunday’s Huthi attack represents the most intense barrage of its war, with the state punishing airstrikes in Yemen that have been criticized internationally for killing civilians. Among the targets was a petrochemical complex in Yanbu on the shores of the Red Sea, which Saudi officials said disrupted production for the world’s largest oil exporter.

Another target was the North Jeddah bulk plant, which stores diesel, petrol and jet fuel for use in Jeddah, the second largest city in the state, about 285 kilometers (177 miles) southeast of Yanbu on the coast. It supplies more than a quarter of all supplies to Saudi Arabia and provides significant fuel to run a regional desalination plant.

Saudi authorities had earlier described the attack as “the cause of a limited fire in a tank, which was brought under control without any casualties.” The Houthis say they used Quds-2 land attack cruise missiles in the attack.

Planet Labs PBC photos taken Monday show what was the white, fire-fighting material around the tank, which was damaged in its south-facing part.

At the time of the 2020 attack, tanks with a capacity of 500,000 barrels had diesel fuel, according to a recent report by a panel of UN experts examining the war in Yemen. It cost Aramco about 1.5 1.5 million to repair it after the last attack.

UN experts have described the facility as a “civilian target” that the Houthis should have avoided after the 2020 attack.

“While the facility supplies petroleum products to the Saudi military, it supplies most civilian customers,” the panel said. “If the plant had been out of service for a significant period of time, the impact on the state’s economy as well as the well-being of residents in the western region would probably have been significant.”

Defending against cruise missiles and drones remains difficult, although the United States recently sent a significant number of Patriot anti-missile interceptors to Saudi Arabia to replenish the state in the wake of the Houthi attack.

In September, the AP reported that the United States had withdrawn its own Patriot and Thad defenses from Prince Sultan Air Base outside Riyadh.

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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

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