Yemen’s Houthi rebels claim to have launched a big offensive against Saudi-backed Yemeni forces and captured “thousands” of prisoners.
The Houthis broadcast footage of the attack on Sunday, describing it as the rebels’ largest military operation since Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015.
The videos purported to show seized vehicles bearing Saudi military insignia, as well as interviews with two soldiers who identified themselves as Saudis to their captors. Most of those shown in the footage appeared to be Yemeni but it was not clear when the alleged attack took place.
The information could not be independently verified and the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen did not respond to requests for comment.
Saudi Arabia backs forces loyal to the exiled Yemeni government, which has been battling the rebels in a more than four-year civil war. While leading the coalition’s air strikes, Riyadh has deployed relatively limited numbers of ground troops in Yemen, concentrating most of its land forces along its southern border.
The Houthis said the offensive took place near Saudi Arabia’s southern region of Najran, which borders Yemen.
“Only 72 hours after the start of the . . . operation, our forces enforced a full siege on the enemy,” Brigadier Yahya Sarie, the Houthi military spokesman, told reporters on Saturday.
Houthi-run Al Masirah television quoted the spokesman as saying the movement had captured “thousands” of enemy troops, including Saudi officers and soldiers.
If confirmed, the offensive would be a blow to the Saudi-led coalition. The coalition intervened to support the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi after the Houthis seized Sana’a.
Houthi forces, which have previously made incursions from their northern heartlands across the border into Saudi territory, have in recent weeks been fighting Saudi-backed forces in Yemen’s northern district of Kataf.
The upsurge in fighting on the Yemeni-Saudi border comes two week after the Houthis claimed responsibility for a devastating drone and missile attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure.
US and Saudi officials have said the strikes on the Abqaiq oil processing facility and the Khurais oilfield could not have originated in Yemen. They have blamed Iran, raising tensions between Washington and Tehran.
Iran has denied responsibility for the assault, which rocked global markets after temporarily knocking out about half of the kingdom’s oil production.
After the Abqaiq attack, Houthi commanders threatened more strikes on Saudi oil targets and the United Arab Emirates, Riyadh’s main ally in the coalition fighting in Yemen. But the rebels have also offered to end their drone and missile attacks into the kingdom if the coalition ceases its military operations.
The war in Yemen has become a proxy war between the kingdom and Iran, with Riyadh accusing Tehran of smuggling weapons to the Houthis and stoking conflict on its doorstep.
The war has plunged the Arab world’s poorest state into what the UN has described as the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crisis, with more than 10m people pushed to the brink of famine.
After ousting Mr Hadi from Sana’a in 2015, the Houthis swept south and seized the southern port of Aden. The coalition, backed by western munitions, managed to push the rebel forces back into their northern heartlands, but has since failed to make any decisive progress.