(Beirut) – Houthi forces in Yemen attacked a Saudi civilian airport on June 12, 2019, in violation of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said today. Commanders who order deliberate or indiscriminate attacks on civilian objects are responsible for war crimes.
Houthi-aligned media reported that a “winged cruise missile” struck Abha Regional Airport in southern Saudi Arabia at 2:21 a.m. The Saudi-led coalition announced in the official Saudi Press Agency on June 12 that an unidentified weapon had struck the Abha airport arrivals hall and injured 26 people. Eight were taken to the hospital with “medium” injuries and 18 others were treated at the scene. The Saudi Press Agency statement also carried photos showing damage to the airport.
“The Houthis should immediately stop all attacks on civilian infrastructure in Saudi Arabia,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Unlawful Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen never justify Houthi attacks on Saudi civilians.”
Houthi-aligned media stated that the Houthis launched a cruise missile at the airport control tower, suggesting the attack was deliberate. A Houthi spokesperson added that the Abha airport strike followed other recent strikes on nearby King Khalid Airbase and Jizan airport. Saudi sources have not confirmed these attacks. Abha Regional Airport is a civilian airport 110 kilometers from the Saudi border with Yemen and 15 kilometers west of King Khalid Air Base, one of Saudi Arabia’s largest military airbases. Airport authorities announced on Twitter at 1:06 p.m. that airport operations had resumed as normal.
The attack on the Abha airport is the latest indiscriminate Houthi attack on Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the war between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis in Yemen. Houthi forces have repeatedly launched rockets and missiles toward populated areas in Saudi Arabia. Most of these attacks involved ballistic missiles that were intercepted by Saudi air defenses. Previous attacks resulted in deaths and injuries from falling debris, including the death of an Egyptian man and injuries to two other men in Riyadh on March 25, 2018, the death of a Saudi man in Saudi Arabia’s southern Jizan Province on April 28, 2018, and the death of a Saudi man and injuries to 11 others in Jizan Province on August 8, 2018.
Houthi authorities have repeatedly indicated that they consider civilian airports to be valid targets and have announced airport attacks to the media. Houthi-aligned media previously reported that Houthi forces attacked Abu Dhabi International Airport in July 2018 and Dubai International Airport in August and September 2018 using drones, but United Arab Emirates authorities denied these claims.
On June 9, a Houthi spokesperson tweeted that coalition airports would be targeted in response to the continued coalition closure of Sanaa’s international airport. Following the June 12 attack, a Houthi spokesperson warned “civilians and companies” in the UAE and Saudi Arabia to stay away from all airports, in addition to military locations.
In November 2017, the coalition blocked all Yemeni land, air, and sea ports in response to a Houthi ballistic missile attack on Riyadh’s international airport. The coalition eased some restrictions in late 2017 but has continued to impede aid and commercial imports from reaching Houthi-controlled ports. It has kept Sanaa International Airport, Yemen’s main airport, closed since August 2016, worsening the country’s humanitarian catastrophe.
Since March 2015, the coalition has conducted scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes, killing thousands of civilians and hitting civilian objects in violation of the laws of war. Houthi forces have used banned antipersonnel landmines, recruited children, and fired artillery indiscriminately into cities such as Taizz and Aden, killing and wounding civilians.
Under the laws of war, attacks against civilians or attacks that cannot distinguish between civilians and military objectives are prohibited. Individuals who commit serious violations of the laws of war with criminal intent – that is, intentionally or recklessly – may be prosecuted for war crimes. Individuals may also be held criminally liable for assisting in, facilitating, aiding, or abetting a war crime.
“The deaths and suffering of Yemeni civilians at the hands of the Saudi and UAE-led coalition provide absolutely no excuse for Houthi forces to commit unlawful attacks on Saudi civilians,” Page said.