With Hajj weeks away, Yemeni rebels fire missile near Mecca

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — A ballistic missile fired by Yemeni rebels was shot down late Thursday close to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, a month before the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest site, the Arab military coalition fighting in Yemen said.

The missile was intercepted 69 kilometers (43 miles) south of the city in western Saudi Arabia, the coalition said in a statement, calling it “a desperate attempt by Shiite Houthi rebels to disrupt Hajj”, which begins at the end of August.

Occasional ballistic missile attacks, as well as more frequent short-range rocket fire over the southern border, have in the past been conducted after coalition air strikes against the rebels in Yemen.

It is not the first time rebels have fired in the direction of Mecca.

In this image released by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims make their way to cast stones at a pillar symbolizing the stoning of Satan in a ritual called "Jamarat," the last rite of the annual hajj, on the first day of Eid al-Adha, in Mina on the outskirts of the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

In October they launched one of their longest-range strikes against Saudi Arabia, firing a ballistic missile that was brought down near the holy city, an attack condemned by Riyadh’s Gulf allies.

But the new attack is thought to pose a threat ahead of Hajj, when some two million faithful from across the world will visit the site.

Houthi rebels ride in the back of a truck during a rally in the capital Sanaa on July 24, 2015. (AFP/MOHAMMED HUWAIS)

The Houthi rebels and their allies, former members of Yemen’s security forces linked to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, began retaliatory attacks against the kingdom two years ago.

The Saudi-lead coalition intervened in the country in March 2015 to support President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who says the rebels are supported by its regional arch-rival Iran.

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