SANAA (Yemen) • A ballistic missile fired from Yemen came close to the Saudi capital of Riyadh and was intercepted by the Saudi military over the city's international airport, the Saudi Defence Ministry said.
It was the first time such an attack had come so close to the centre of Riyadh in the two years since Saudi Arabia started a war against the Houthi rebel group that toppled Yemen's government.
Yemen's Houthi-controlled Defence Ministry said that on Saturday, its forces had targeted the airport with a long-range missile called the Burqan 2H in response to an attack by the Saudi-led coalition last Wednesday that killed 26 people in a hotel and a nearby market.
But the Saudi-led coalition suggested the attack had been ordered by Iran, which it said backs the Houthis.
"This act of aggression against Riyadh proves involvement of one of the terror states supporting the Houthis," the coalition was quoted as saying in a tweet from Al Hadath, a Saudi-run news channel.
Several hours after the missile attack, the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, was hit by the worst barrage of Saudi-led coalition air strikes in more than a year.
About 12 strikes were heard hitting the Defence Ministry downtown and other targets mostly on the city outskirts.
The exchange of firepower took place on a day when the region was on edge over the growing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Earlier, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri resigned from a unity government that includes Iran's Lebanese ally Hizbollah.
Residents and travellers in Riyadh reported hearing a loud explosion on Saturday. The Twitter account of King Khalid International Airport issued a message saying airport operations had not been affected.
Videos of the scene showed people rushing to airport windows as smoke and what appeared to be flashes or fires appeared on the ground. One showed red flares rising towards the sky.
Military analysts at IHS Jane's have written that the Houthis' emerging use of ballistic missiles offers some support for American, Saudi and Israeli allegations that Iran is aiding them with parts or technology, but the analysts add that it would be difficult for Iran to ship whole missiles to Yemen. Another possibility, the analysts say, is that the missiles were acquired by Yemen from North Korea before the current conflict.
In Sanaa, jets were heard overhead and residents reported air strikes. Taxi driver Ali Hassan said that roads leading to the Defence Ministry downtown were closed by the police.
"I saw smoke rising from the ministry," he said, adding that he also saw an air strike in another area where a weapon depot was located.
The ministry is in a densely populated area, a World Heritage site known as Bab al-Yemen, which has been targeted before.
The Houthis' news channel, Al-Masirah, said on Twitter: "We repeatedly affirmed that capitals of aggression states won't be spared from our ballistic missiles in retaliation for the constant targeting of innocent civilians."