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Saudi-Led Coalition Strikes Yemen After Aramco Fuel Depot Attack

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By Anthony Di Paola and Mohammed Hatem

(Bloomberg) —

The Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen launched airstrikes against sites in the southern Arabian country in response to multiple attacks Friday, including one that caused a fire at an Aramco fuel depot in Jeddah.

Airstrikes early Saturday targeted sites including Ras Eissa port and electricity and fuel installations in Yemen’s Hodiedah province, as well as military sites in the capital, Sanaa, according to rebel-run Al-Masirah TV. 

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Gulf news outlets reported the retaliatory strikes, with Kuwait News Agency saying the operation is in its preliminary phase and seeks to protect energy sources and supplies.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who’s scheduled to meet regional leaders this weekend, condemned the attacks. The U.S. has been criticized by the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates for pursuing nuclear negotiations with Iran and for responding too slowly to Houthi attacks in the region. Blinken is scheduled to meet the UAE’s de facto ruler, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, during the trip.

Other bombings that targeted Saudi Arabia last weekend and the UAE in January indicate an escalation in regional violence at a time when energy prices are surging on geopolitical uncertainty and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine tests global alliances. 

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The U.S.’s Gulf allies have so far resisted calls for more oil and haven’t supported western sanctions against Russia, in part due to security concerns and reluctance to see a new Iran nuclear deal reached.

Jeddah is not in Saudi Arabia’s main oil-producing region, although Aramco has suffered strikes at the heart of its energy industry. Attacks in September 2019 briefly knocked about half of Saudi oil production out of action when missiles hit processing units at the Abqaiq and Khurais facilities in the country’s east.

Saudi Arabia is hosting a Formula 1 race in Jeddah this weekend, a major set piece of the kingdom’s tourism push. Hitting Jeddah ahead of the sporting event could tarnish the image the country is looking to develop as a business and leisure destination, and highlights the risks of the drawn-out conflict to the south.

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The race will go ahead despite the attacks, Formula 1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali told participating teams, according to the Telegraph.

In Friday’s attack, an oil storage facility in Jeddah was hit by a barrage of drone attacks, in a marked escalation of tensions in one of the world’s most important regions for oil shipments. 

Fuel tanks at state oil producer Saudi Aramco’s North Jeddah Bulk Plant — a storage facility — caught fire, Saudi defense ministry spokesman Turki al-Maliki was by cited by the Saudi Press Agency as saying. Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed a series of attacks on Aramco facilities on Friday, sending oil prices higher.

While the storage site targeted in Jeddah is focused on domestic needs, limiting the impact on the global crude market, the escalation of attacks is spooking oil traders, with crude already above $100 a barrel. Saudi Arabia warned this week that oil supplies are at risk, and called on the U.S. to do more to counter attacks from the Iran-backed Houthis — a message it reiterated Friday. 

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“This aggressive escalation targets oil facilities and is meant to try to affect energy security and the global economy,” al-Maliki told the official Saudi Press Agency after the attack. 

Aramco media officials were not immediately available to comment. An energy ministry spokesman was cited by the Saudi Press Agency as confirming the Jeddah attack and another at Jazan in the south. There were no casualties.

Read More: Saudis Say Oil Exports at Risk Unless Allies Foil Houthi Attacks

Aramco closed its only refinery in Jeddah in 2017, with most of its infrastructure in the city focused on local supply. The Houthis have regularly targeted a 400,000 barrel-a-day refinery at Jazan, further to the south and near the Yemeni border, apparently without having caused any major damage there.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

Bloomberg.com

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