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Saudi border town hit by Houthi shelling amid GCC summit in Riyadh

Yemen's Houthi rebels have shelled Najran, a Saudi border town, hitting schools, hospitals, and houses. Following the attack, French President Francois Hollande announced his support for Gulf countries at the GCC summit.

Yemen's Houthi rebels "randomly" shelled Najran, a Saudi border town on Tuesday, hitting schools, hospitals, and civilian homes, said Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri, spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition.

"The Houthi militias have targeted the border region in Najran with mortars," al-Assiri said on the Saudi-owned satellite channel al-Ekhbariyah.

Tuesday's attack marks the first by the Iran-backed Houthis on Saudi soil.

"The armed forces are carrying out their duties in confronting the aggression by the Houthis and today's action will not pass without punishment," al-Assiri added.

Saudi Airlines said it cancelled flights to and from Najran's domestic airport. Schools in the southern region were also suspended following the shelling.

Confronting Iran

Shortly after the attack, Saudi's King Salman told Gulf leaders in Riyadh that an external threat that "aims to expand control and impose its hegemony" and create "sectarian sedition" needs to be confronted, in reference to Iran.

Iran has been accused of providing weapons and finances to the Shiite Houthis, who took over large swathes of land and overran Yemen's capital Sanaa in 2014.

Saudi Arabien Riad GCC Gipfel

Save for Oman, all GCC countries are part of the Saudi-led coalition against Houthis in Yemen

France affirms 'commitment' to GCC security

France's President Francois Hollande addressed Gulf monarchs at the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Riyadh

, becoming the first Western leader to attend the summit.

Hollande told the summit that France is facing the same dangers as the region, adding that he had come to Riyadh "to affirm the commitment of France to be by your [Gulf countries] side."

The French president also said he supports the coalition's efforts "to ensure the stability of Yemen."

Hollande's announcement comes a day after

signing a $7 billion (6.3 billion euros) deal to provide Qatar, a GCC member state, with 24 Rafale fighter jets

, including an option for 12 more in the future.

Peace talks on the horizon

Meanwhile, exiled President Hadi wants Yemen's rival forces to join in Riyadh for peace talks on May 17, Qatar's foreign minister said following Tuesday's GCC summit.

"The president of Yemen has called for the start of the dialogue in Riyadh on the 17th of May," Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah told reporters.

Attiyah added that Yemen's president wishes "that everyone accept and join other Yemen colleagues that are already in Riyadh… to start this process."

The UN has warned that

Yemen is on the brink of collapse

due to the conflict. More than 1,200 people have been killed, including 500 civilians, by coalition airstrikes, according to UN figures.

ls/jil (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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