Saudi Arabia intercepts missiles fired from Yemen as G20 ministers gather

DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia said it had intercepted several ballistic missiles fired from Yemen towards Saudi cities on Friday as finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of 20 major economies gathered for a meeting in Riyadh.

The Iran-aligned Houthi movement launched the missiles from the Yemeni capital Sanaa at 3am, Saudi news agency SPA quoted the spokesman of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen as saying. It gave no further details.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility from the Houthi movement. The G20 meeting, at which finance officials are due to discuss the global economy, was continuing as scheduled.

An escalation of violence since the start of the year has shattered more than three months of unprecedented calm in the five-year-old conflict in Yemen, widely seen as proxy war between Saudi Arabia and its regional foe, Shi’ite Muslim Iran.

Saudi Arabia has been holding informal talks with the Houthis since late September about de-escalation. Riyadh had significantly reduced its air strikes on Yemen and the Houthis had halted missile and drone attacks on the kingdom.

But violence resumed on northern frontlines in January and led to renewed Houthi missile strikes, the first since attacks on Saudi oil facilities in September knocked out more than half of the kingdom’s crude output. The Saudi-led coalition resumed retaliatory bombings.

Three sources close to the discussions between Riyadh and the Houthis said factions in Yemen’s Saudi-backed government had provoked the unrest to try to undermine the talks, fearful that a deal may weaken their own position in any wider negotiations.

A spokesman for the government denied its forces provoked the Houthis and told Reuters that they were responding to advances by the group. A Houthi official accused the government of trying to make territorial gains during the lull in violence.

The escalation endangers months of peace efforts by Saudi Arabia and the United Nations, and highlights the challenge Riyadh faces in trying to exit a costly and unpopular war.

The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015 to try to restore the internationally-recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, ousted by the Houthis in Sanaa in 2014.

The war, a military stalemate, has killed tens of thousands of people, most of them civilians, and left millions of Yemenis facing starvation.

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