Yemen’s Huthi rebels on Saturday staged a public funeral for Saleh al-Sammad, head of their Supreme Political Council and effectively the insurgents’ second-in-command, who was killed last week in an air raid claimed by Saudi Arabia and its allies.
His funeral came hours after Saudi Arabia’s state-run Al-Ekhbariya television said two high-ranking insurgents were among more than 50 Huthis killed in a new strike overnight in the capital Sanaa.
The rebels have been locked in a war since 2015 with a Saudi-led military alliance fighting to restore the internationally-recognised Yemeni government to power.
Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television said the strike had targeted the interior ministry in Sanaa, which is controlled by the rebels.
The Huthis, backed by Saudi Arabia’s regional arch-rival Iran, confirmed an overnight air strike on Sanaa but gave no details.
The rebels, who hail from northern Yemen, control Sanaa and much of the country’s north — which borders Saudi Arabia — and the key Hodeida port on the Red Sea coast.
Shortly after Sammad’s funeral began, the Huthis said they had launched eight ballistic missiles into the Sunni kingdom.
The coalition confirmed it had intercepted four missiles headed for the southern Saudi coastal city of Jizan, one day after the kingdom’s defence forces said they had downed a missile headed for the same area. No casualties were reported in either incident.
The rebels have ramped up their missile attacks on Saudi Arabia this year, although only one casualty has been reported.
Saturday’s attacks came as newly-appointed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was scheduled to land in Riyadh for meetings including talks on the Yemen conflict.
Riyadh and its close ally Washington accuse Iran of arming the Huthis, which Iran denies.
Tehran blames Saudi Arabia for the devastating Yemen war, which has seen millions struggle to secure food.
In Sanaa, Huthi supporters lined the streets Saturday for the funeral of Sammad and six others killed in last Thursday’s strike.
Rebels dressed in military fatigues marched ahead of his hearse, which included seven cars draped in the Yemeni flag and accompanied by a marching band.
Nearly 10,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led alliance joined the Yemen conflict, triggering what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Yemen now stands at the brink of famine.
The Saudi-led coalition imposed a total blockade on Yemen’s ports in November in retaliation for cross-border Huthi missile attacks on Saudi Arabia.
The blockade has since been partially lifted, but access to the impoverished country remains limited. —AFP