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Saudi ground forces have repeatedly clashed with the rebels near the border with Yemen and its helicopters have seen action there.

Saudi forces on Thursday killed dozens of rebels from Yemen who launched their first major attack on the kingdom since the air war began, the defence ministry said.

Three Saudi soldiers also died in the battle after the rebels targeted border observation posts, also on the Najran border.

Tuesday’s assault was the first by the Houthis on an inhabited Saudi town.

Assiri accused the rebels of trying to sabotage a tentative coalition initiative announced on Monday for a humanitarian pause in air strikes to allow deliveries of aid.

“After yesterday’s announcement of the humanitarian initiative, they want to express their rejection of any peace initiative, so they targeted Najran,” he said.

“The coalition leadership seeks to calm the situation to pave the way for political” talks and aid deliveries, Assiri said.

“Unfortunately, these (rebel) militiamen thought they could exploit the situation.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir warned the rebels on Monday against taking advantage of any pause in the bombing.

Assiri called Tuesday’s attacks on Najran “suicidal”, warning that “all those who approach the border will be killed”.

The assault on Najran came as Saudi Arabia’s King Salman warned at a summit in Riyadh of the threat from Iran to regional stability.

The Houthis are allied with army units loyal to Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

They are battling loyalists of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled the rebels’ southern advance for Riyadh in March.

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