Yemen war ramps up with barrage of missiles on Saudi Arabia

RIYADH/SANAA March 26 (Reuters) - The Houthi movement that controls northern Yemen vowed on Monday to fire more missiles into Saudi Arabia unless it stops bombing the country, after missiles crashed into Riyadh overnight causing casualties in the Saudi capital for the first time.

Saudi forces said they shot down three missiles over Riyadh shortly before midnight. Debris fell on a home in the capital, killing an Egyptian resident and wounding two other Egyptians.

Air defenses also repelled missiles fired at the southern Saudi cities of Najran, Jizan and Khamis Mushait, Saudi-led coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said.

A top Houthi leader hailed the attack, which took place on the eve of the third anniversary of the entry into the Yemen war by Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies.

"We praise the successful advance of military capabilities," Houthi political council chief Saleh al-Samad told a crowd of tens of thousands of supporters in the Yemeni capital Sanaa.

RELATED: A look at the deadly cholera outbreak in Yemen

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Deadly cholera outbreak in Yemen

A Yemeni child lies on a mattress in hospital hallway as patients suspected of being infected with cholera receive treatment in Sanaa on May 6, 2017. At least 570 suspected cases of cholera have surfaced in war-torn Yemen in the past three weeks, sparking fears of a potential epidemic, Doctors Without Borders said. Healthcare has dramatically deteriorated in Yemen as conflict between Iran-backed rebels and the Saudi-supported government continues to escalate, leaving hospitals destroyed and millions struggling to find access to food and clean water.

(MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

A girl infected with cholera lies on the ground at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen May 7, 2017.

(REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

A girl pushes a wheel cart with water jerrycans past a pile of rubbish bags on a street during a strike by garbage collectors demanding delayed salaries in Sanaa, Yemen May 8, 2017.

(REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

A cholera-infected man reacts as he lies on a hospital bed in Sanaa, Yemen May 6, 2017.

(REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

Yemenis suspected of being infected with cholera receive treatment at a hospital in Sanaa on May 6, 2017. At least 570 suspected cases of cholera have surfaced in war-torn Yemen in the past three weeks, sparking fears of a potential epidemic, Doctors Without Borders said. Healthcare has dramatically deteriorated in Yemen as conflict between Iran-backed rebels and the Saudi-supported government continues to escalate, leaving hospitals destroyed and millions struggling to find access to food and clean water. 

(MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

A Yemeni child suspected of being infected with cholera receives treatment at a hospital in Sanaa on May 6, 2017. At least 570 suspected cases of cholera have surfaced in war-torn Yemen in the past three weeks, sparking fears of a potential epidemic, Doctors Without Borders said. Healthcare has dramatically deteriorated in Yemen as conflict between Iran-backed rebels and the Saudi-supported government continues to escalate, leaving hospitals destroyed and millions struggling to find access to food and clean water. 

(MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

A cholera-infected girl lies on a bed at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen May 7, 2017.

(REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

Young Yemenis suspected of being infected with cholera receive treatment at a hospital in Sanaa on May 6, 2017. At least 570 suspected cases of cholera have surfaced in war-torn Yemen in the past three weeks, sparking fears of a potential epidemic, Doctors Without Borders said. Healthcare has dramatically deteriorated in Yemen as conflict between Iran-backed rebels and the Saudi-supported government continues to escalate, leaving hospitals destroyed and millions struggling to find access to food and clean water. 

(MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Rubbish bags pile up on a street during a strike by garbage collectors demanding delayed salaries in Sanaa, Yemen May 8, 2017.

(REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

Relatives sit next to a sick man waiting to be admitted to a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen May 6, 2017.

(REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

A girl infected with cholera sits on a chair at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen May 7, 2017.

(REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

A Yemeni woman sits with a child as patients suspected of being infected with cholera receive treatment at a hospital in Sanaa on May 6, 2017. At least 570 suspected cases of cholera have surfaced in war-torn Yemen in the past three weeks, sparking fears of a potential epidemic, Doctors Without Borders said. Healthcare has dramatically deteriorated in Yemen as conflict between Iran-backed rebels and the Saudi-supported government continues to escalate, leaving hospitals destroyed and millions struggling to find access to food and clean water. 

(MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

A man sits as he waits for a cholera-infected relative at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen May 6, 2017.

(REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

Women help a young relative infected with cholera at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen May 7, 2017.

(REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

A girl infected with cholera lies on the ground at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen May 7, 2017.

(REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

A boy infected with cholera lies on the ground at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen May 7, 2017.

(REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

A boy and his mother, both infected with cholera, lie on a bed at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen May 7, 2017.

(REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

Cholera-infected children lie on the ground at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen May 7, 2017.

(REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

A woman sits next to her cholera-infected daughter at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen May 7, 2017.

(REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

Women accompany cholera-infected children at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen May 7, 2017.

(REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

A woman looks from behind bars of a hospital ward allocated for cholera-infected patients in Sanaa, Yemen May 7, 2017.

(REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

A nurse tends to a cholera-infected patient at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen May 6, 2017.

(REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

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"If they want peace, as we have said to them before, stop your air strikes and we will stop our missiles," he said. "If you continue your air strikes we have a right to defend ourselves by all means available."

The war in the Arabian Peninsula's poorest country, which pits a coalition of Sunni Arab states friendly to the West against a Shi'ite armed movement sympathetic to Iran, has unleashed one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

The Houthis control the north of Yemen, including the capital Sanaa. Saudi Arabia and its allies have been fighting on behalf of an exiled government with a foothold in the south.

EXPLOSIONS

Khattab Gamal, a 27-year-old Egyptian electrician who lived in the Riyadh house hit by the debris, told Reuters he and his 15 housemates were awoken by loud explosions.

"We knew something fell on the room where Abdulmuttalib was asleep. There were three others in the same room with him. All were asleep at the time of explosion. They all rushed and ran out and then we realized he was missing.

"We kept looking for him and realized he was still inside, we went back and tried to enter the room and save him but we couldn't," he said by telephone. "There was a lot of dust and the smell was suffocating.... A few minutes later the civil defense came and got him out but he was already dead."

The Saudi-led coalition has launched thousands of air strikes on Yemen in the past three years, some of which have hit hospitals, schools and markets, killing hundreds of civilians while bringing Riyadh little closer to military victory.

The kingdom has said hundreds of its own soldiers and civilians have been killed in Houthi mortar and short-range missile attacks across their rugged southern border.

The United Nations says 10,000 people have died in the conflict so far, and millions face potential famine and disease because of disruption to food and medical supplies.

Around 22 million civilians, or 75 percent of Yemen's population, require humanitarian aid, according to latest U.N. data. The conflict has caused the worst cholera outbreak in modern history, with over 1 million reported cases.

Last year, when the Houthis fired missiles at Riyadh which were intercepted without doing damage, the Arab coalition responded by shutting Yemen's airports and ports, a blockade that the United Nations said raised the prospect of mass starvation before it was partially lifted.

Western countries have urged Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies to protect civilians and find a quick end to the war. But they also support Riyadh's argument that it needs to defend itself from cross border strikes and limit the spread of Iranian influence in territory overlooking important trade routes.

The Saudi military depends on service contracts with Western arms companies to keep its planes flying. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed the war with U.S. President Donald Trump during a visit to the White House last week, and with British Prime Minister Theresa May in London the previous week.

Saudi Arabia viewed the 2014 takeover of Sanaa by the Houthis as part of a regional strategy by arch-foe Tehran to encircle it. Independent U.N. experts reported to the Security Council in January that Houthi missiles they had examined and other military equipment had been manufactured in Iran.

The Houthis deny they are Iranian pawns, and say their spread throughout Yemen is a national revolution against corrupt government officials and Gulf Arab states in thrall of the West.

Diplomats and Yemeni political officials reported this month that the Houthis and Saudi Arabia were conducting secret peace talks after years of U.N.-mediated dialog yielded no results. (Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi Writing by Noah Browning Editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Peter Graff)

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