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Houthis turn up the heat on Saudi coalition

Saudi Arabia is considering its response after intercepting seven missiles launched from Yemeni soil

The decision by the Houthis to fire volleys of missiles towards targets in Saudi Arabia is further proof that an end to Yemen's conflict is nowhere in sight. Far from being cowed by three years of intense aerial bombardment by Saudi Arabia and its allies, the Houthis are hoping to pressure the coalition into calling off its campaign.

There's no chance that the Saudis will respond in the way the Houthis want. Ending the bombing would be tantamount to handing victory to the Houthis—and by extension to Iran, which is accused by the kingdom of providing missiles and other weapons to the rebels in Yemen. So it's hard to predict what extra steps, if any, Saudi Arabia will take—short of getting involved in what would be a dangerous direct military conflict with Iran.

A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition has hinted that this option isn't being ruled out. "The Houthis acquiring ballistic missile capabilities is a dangerous development," he said. "The kingdom preserves the right to respond to Iran at the right time and place. The United Nations must hold Iran accountable."

Given the sharp rise in tensions, it's possible that the international community will intensify diplomatic efforts to end the conflict. US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said that while "the US supports our Saudi partners' right" to defend their borders, that Washington will "continue to call on all parties, including the Houthis, to return to political negotiations toward ending the war in Yemen".

No one would wish this to happen more than the Yemeni people themselves. For three years they've suffered either directly from the military activity of both sides in the conflict or indirectly by the collapse of infrastructure and the consequent spread of disease. Many thousands of Yemenis are suffering from cholera and other diseases.

A BBC correspondent said there was a mixed reaction from her contacts in the capital, Sanaa, to the Houthis firing ballistic missiles. "Most are saying," she reported, "that maybe the Houthis should spend the money they have to feed us, or provide us with cooking gas, rather than bombing Saudi Arabia."

With at least 6,000 civilian deaths over the past three years, the latest intensification of the conflict might at last spur the international community to take all possible diplomatic steps to end the suffering in this largely ignored conflict.

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