The Saudi-led military coalition battling Yemen’s Houthi movement has said it conducted air raids on Houthi military targets in Sanaa and other regions after the group launched armed drones towards Saudi Arabia.
“The military operation targets Houthi military capabilities in Sanaa and a number of other provinces,” the coalition said in a statement carried by Saudi state media on Sunday.
The coalition, which said it had destroyed 10 armed drones, said “civilians and civilian objects in the kingdom are a red line”.
It did not specify locations that were targeted by drones. The United States consulate in the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah issued an advisory, citing reports of suspected attacks and explosions near Jeddah and the southern town of Khamis Mushait. The Houthis did not immediately claim responsibility for the attacks.
Sources told Al Jazeera the coalition air raids “targeted Houthi military sites in the capital, Sanaa”, including the al-Seyana base.
A witness told the Reuters news agency of several air raids. Plumes of black smoke were visible in the vicinity of a military compound near Sanaa University. The Houthi-run Al Masirah TV said coalition warplanes launched “a series of air raids” on the al-Nahda and Attan districts.
The Houthis, who have been battling the coalition since it intervened in Yemen’s civil war in March 2015, recently stepped up cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia as they escalate an offensive to seize the government’s last northern stronghold of Marib. Fighting has also intensified on the ground in the Taiz region.
The escalation comes as the US and the United Nations increase diplomatic efforts for a ceasefire to pave the way for a resumption of UN-sponsored political talks to end the conflict.
Saudi state media on Sunday cited the coalition as saying the Houthis were emboldened after the new US administration revoked Washington’s designation of the Houthis as a “terrorist” organisation in February.
The designation, imposed late in the administration of former US President Donald Trump, had been widely criticised by aid organisations, who warned it would hamper their efforts to alleviate a humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
Last week, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on two Houthi military leaders after the group ramped up attacks on Saudi cities as it continues its offensive in Marib, in which hundreds of fighters have been killed.
On Saturday, Yemeni government sources said fierce fighting between pro-government forces and the rebels in Marib had left at least 90 combatants on the two sides dead over the span of 24 hours. The fighting also left dozens of people wounded, the sources added.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday urged the Houthis to halt their offensive in Marib, as he announced $191m in aid at a donors’ conference.
“Aid alone will not end the conflict. We can only end the humanitarian crisis in Yemen by ending the war … so the United States is reinvigorating our diplomatic efforts to end the war,” he said.
The United Nations had sought to raise $3.85bn from more than 100 governments and donors, but only $1.7bn was pledged.
The loss of Marib would be a huge blow for Yemen’s internationally-recognised government, but would also threaten catastrophe for civilians, including hundreds of thousands of displaced people sheltering in desolate camps in the surrounding desert.
Years of bombing have failed to shake the rebels’ hold on Sanaa, and they have steadily expanded their reach in the country’s north.
US President Joe Biden halted support to Saudi offensive operations in Yemen’s war, which he called a “catastrophe” that “has to end”. But he also reiterated US support for Saudi Arabia in defending its territory.
Riyadh and its allies say they are fighting to restore the rule of Yemen’s government, headed by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and removed from power following the Houthis’ takeover of the capital in late 2014.
The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign aggression.
The war, in a military deadlock for years, has killed tens of thousands of people and has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.