DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - An oil pipeline that runs across Saudi Arabia was hit Tuesday by drones, the Saudi energy minister said, as regional tensions flared just days after what the kingdom called an attack on two of its oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.
While both U.S. President Donald Trump and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said they were not planning for conflict, the volatility was felt in oil markets with benchmark Brent crude trading over $71 a barrel, up more than $1 on the day.
The pipeline that runs from the kingdom’s oil-rich Eastern Province to a Red Sea port was shut down, but Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih Al-Falih vowed that the production and export of Saudi oil would not be interrupted.
The Houthis, who are at war with Saudi Arabia, said earlier Tuesday they launched seven drones targeting vital Saudi installations, without elaborating. They later claimed responsibility for the pipeline attack in comments broadcast by Houthi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Sari.
In a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency, al-Falih called the pipeline attack “cowardly,” saying recent acts of sabotage against the kingdom were targeting not only Saudi Arabia but also the safety of the world’s energy supply and global economy.
The attacks demonstrated the increased risks in a region vital to global energy supplies amid heightened tensions following the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, and the subsequent re-imposition of U.S. sanctions to cripple the Iranian economy.
Iran has since said it would begin enriching uranium at higher levels by July 7 if world powers failed to negotiate new terms for the deal.
The Saudis did not immediately assign blame for the drone assaults, which targeted two oil pumping stations west of the capital supplying the pipeline that runs from the east of Saudi Arabia to the Yanbu Port on its western coast.
Still, al-Falih in his statement named Yemeni rebel Houthis as a group that must be internationally confronted and accused them of being backed by Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.
Saudi Arabia has been at war with the Houthis and their allies in Yemen since March 2015, targeting the Iranian-allied rebels with near daily airstrikes.
“This is a message to Saudi Arabia: Stop your aggression,” Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdel-Salam told The Associated Press. “Our goal is to respond to the crimes they are committing everyday against the Yemeni people.”