By ISABEL DEBRE, Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Houthi rebels in Yemen unleashed a barrage of drone and missile strikes on Saudi Arabia that targeted key facilities including natural gas and desalination plants early on Sunday, Saudi state media reported, temporarily cutting off oil production at one site.
The pre-dawn salvo marked the latest escalation in rebel attacks on the kingdom as the war in Yemen rages into its eighth year and peace talks stall.
The attacks caused no casualties, the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen said, but damaged civilian vehicles and nearby homes. In a separate incident, the coalition also said it destroyed an explosive-packed remote-controlled boat sent by the Houthis to the bustling southern Red Sea.
Hours after oil giant Aramco’s CEO told reporters the attacks had had no impact on oil supplies, the Energy Ministry acknowledged that a drone strike targeting Yanbu Aramco Sinopec Refining Company had caused “a temporary reduction in production at the refinery”.
The disruption, which comes as oil prices climb in an already tight energy market, “will be offset by inventory,” the ministry said in a statement, without giving further details.
The attacks came as Saudi state-backed world’s largest oil company Aramco announced that its profits jumped 124% in 2021 to $110 billion, a jump fueled by concerns renewed regarding global supply shortages and soaring oil prices.
Aramco, also known as Saudi Arabian Oil Co., released its annual results after weeks of intense volatility in energy markets sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Punitive sanctions against Russia, one of the world’s largest exporters of crude oil and petroleum products, have thrown the market into turmoil.
The international oil benchmark, Brent crude, climbed to over $107 on Sunday after nearly hitting a high of $140 earlier this month. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have so far resisted Western calls to increase oil production to make up for the loss of Russian oil as gasoline prices soar.
Brig. Yehia Sarie, spokesman for the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen, said the rebels had launched “a vast and extensive military operation”, firing ballistic missiles and bomb-laden drones at Aramco and other facilities. other “sensitive targets”.
He described the assault as retaliation for the Saudi-led “aggression and blockade” that has turned much of Yemen into a desert.
The Saudi-led military coalition said the airstrikes targeted a series of facilities: an Aramco liquefied gas plant and a petrochemical complex in the port of Yanbu on the Red Sea, a power plant in the southwest country, a desalination plant at Al-Shaqeeq on the Red Sea. coast, an Aramco oil facility in the southern border town of Jizan and a gas station in the southern town of Khamis Mushait.
The extent of the damage to Saudi Arabia’s energy infrastructure and facilities remains unclear, and the ministry said only the Yanbu refinery saw a temporary drop in output. A joint venture between Aramco and China, the $10 billion Yanbu Aramco Sinopec Refining Company on the Red Sea pumps 400,000 barrels of oil a day.
The official Saudi Press Agency published photos of fire trucks dousing gushing flames with water and a trail of rubble forged by shrapnel that crashed through ceilings and pitted apartment walls. Other images showed wrecked cars and giant craters in the ground.
The roadblock comes days after the Saudi-based Gulf Cooperation Council said it had invited Yemen’s warring parties to talks in Riyadh aimed at ending the war – an offer rejected outright by the Houthis, who demanded that the negotiations take place in a “neutral” country. .
The UN’s special envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, met the Houthis’ chief negotiator in Muscat, Oman’s capital, this weekend to discuss “a possible truce during the holy month of Ramadan. “, which is expected to begin in early April, the UN mission said. Sunday.
Peace talks have stalled since the Houthis tried to seize oil-rich Marib, one of the last strongholds of the Saudi-backed Yemeni government in the north of the country.
Yemen’s brutal war erupted in 2014, after the Iran-backed Houthis seized the country’s capital, Sanaa. Saudi Arabia and other Arab states launched a devastating air campaign to dislodge the Houthis and restore the internationally recognized government.
But years later, the war has descended into a bloody stalemate and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
Coalition airstrikes have decimated infrastructure and hit civilian targets in Yemen such as hospitals, telecommunications centers and wedding parties, drawing widespread international criticism.
Repeated Houthi cross-border attacks targeting the kingdom’s major oil refineries have rattled global energy markets and heightened the risk of production disruptions at Aramco sites.
As part of its 2021 report, Aramco said it was delivering on its promise to pay quarterly dividends of $18.75 billion — $75 billion last year — due to the company’s commitments to shareholders. approaching its IPO. Almost all of the dividend money goes to the Saudi government.
Despite growing efforts by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to diversify the Saudi economy away from oil, the kingdom remains heavily dependent on oil exports to fuel government spending.
Low oil prices in recent years have stung Aramco, forcing the kingdom to cut spending on projects and grants. But based on its surge in 2021 revenue and high oil prices, Aramco said Sunday it plans to increase capital spending by $40 billion to $50 billion this year to meet growing demand for oil. energy, a considerable increase over spending of $31.9 billion last year.
“Although economic conditions have improved significantly, the outlook remains uncertain due to various macro-economic and geopolitical factors,” said Aramco Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Amin H. Nasser.
Aramco shares rose more than 3% on Sunday to trade for around 43.20 riyals ($11.50) per share on Riyadh’s Tadawul stock exchange.
Associated Press writer Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed to this report.
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