A fire has erupted at an oil depot in Jeddah days ahead of a Formula One race in the Saudi city after what Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed was an attack by the group.
The blaze – not immediately acknowledged by Saudi Arabia or its state-run oil company Saudi Aramco – was centred on the same fuel depot that the Houthis had attacked in recent days.
The attacks came as Saudi Arabia still leads a coalition battling the Iran-backed Houthis, who seized Yemen’s capital of Sana’a in September 2014. The kingdom, which entered the war in Yemen in 2015, has been internationally criticised for its airstrikes that have killed scores of civilians – something the Houthis point to as they launch drones, missiles and mortars into the kingdom.
Videos posted online of the blaze corresponded to known geographic features around the Jeddah plant.
The second-ever Saudi Arabian grand prix in Jeddah is taking place on Sunday, though concerns had been raised by some over the recent attacks targeting the kingdom. Drivers raced on into the evening even as the fire burned and authorities offered no explanation for the blaze.
The Formula One statement said that: “The position at the moment is that we are waiting for further information from the authorities on what has happened.”
The al-Masirah satellite news channel run by Yemen’s Houthi rebels later claimed they had attacked an Aramco facility in Jiddah, along with other targets in Riyadh and elsewhere. The report provided no further details.
Saudi state television acknowledged attacks in the town of Dhahran targeting water tanks that damaged vehicles and homes. Another attack targeted an electrical substation in an area of southwestern Saudi Arabia near the Yemeni border, state TV said.
The North Jeddah Bulk Plant stores diesel, gasoline and jet fuel for use in Jeddah, the kingdom’s second-largest city. It accounts for over a quarter of all of Saudi Arabia’s supplies and also supplies fuel crucial to running a regional desalination plant.
The Houthis have twice targeted the North Jeddah plant with cruise missiles. One attack came in November 2020. The last came on Sunday as part of a wider barrage by the Houthis.
At the time of the 2020 attack, the targeted tank, which has a capacity of 500,000 barrels, held diesel fuel, according to a recent report by a UN panel of experts examining Yemen’s war. Repairing it after the last attack cost Aramco $1.5m (£1.14m).
The UN experts described the facility as a “civilian target,” which the Houthis should have avoided after the 2020 attack.
Cruise missiles and drones remain difficult to defend against, though the US recently sent a significant number of Patriot anti-missile interceptors to Saudi Arabia to resupply the kingdom amid the Houthi attacks.
The attacks have renewed questions about the kingdom’s ability to defend itself from Houthi fire as a years-long war in the Arab world’s poorest country rages on with no end in sight.