A Saudi-led coalition carried out at least seven separate airstrikes on the Yemen international airport on Tuesday, crippling the airport in order to prevent an Iranian airplane from landing, according to both Saudi and Yemeni officials.
The airstrikes targeted the main runway, destroying one of Yemen’s last usable airports and a major transit point for global aid shipments. An airport official confirmed the damage had made it impossible to use the runway.
The bombings show the extent to which Yemen has become trapped in the escalating proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Saudi Arabia began its bombing campaign against the Houthi rebel movement last month in large part to combat what Saudi officials saw as the influence of Iran, which has supported the Houthis.
Yemen’s airspace and seas have been completely controlled by the Saudi-led coalition since the beginning of the offensive. The UN Security Council has also imposed an arms embargo on the Houthis.
A Saudi military spokesman said that the Iranian airplane had not coordinated its landing in Sana with the coalition authorities and had ignored warnings to turn back.
Suspicion is that the plane was carrying arms or other illicit supplies for the rebels, despite Iran claiming it contained medical supplies.
The drastic measures highlight the Saudi resolve to deny advantage to rebel groups.
The bombing of the airport threatens what had been one of Yemen’s precious few lifelines for international aid shipments. Shortages of medicine, food, fuel and other supplies are chronic in the small country.
Relief officials warn that the shortages are causing a humanitarian disaster. The UN said on Monday that hospitals in Yemen will shut down within seven days unless they receive more fuel.
On Tuesday, the UN released new data showing that the number of people displaced because of the war had more than doubled in less than two weeks, to 300,000 people from an estimated 150,000 people 11 days ago.