UAE intercepts Houthi missile attack as Israeli president Isaac Herzog visits

The United Arab Emirates said on Monday it had intercepted a ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Houthi movement as the UAE hosted Israel’s President Isaac Herzog in a first such visit.

Washington condemned the assault, the third on US-allied UAE within the last two weeks, including a deadly strike on the capital Abu Dhabi on Jan 17, in an escalation of the Yemen war between the Houthis and a Saudi-led coalition.

The Emirati defense ministry said the latest missile attack was intercepted 20 minutes past midnight and that its debris fell on an uninhabited area. It did not say whether it was aimed at Abu Dhabi or Dubai, the region’s business and tourism hub.

It came while Israel’s president was visiting Abu Dhabi where he discussed security and bilateral relations with the UAE’s de facto ruler Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Herzog spent the night in Abu Dhabi, an Israeli official told Reuters. He will continue his UAE visit despite the Houthi attack, his office said.

He is due to visit the Expo 2020 Dubai world fair on Monday.

“While Israel’s president is visiting the UAE to build bridges and promote stability across the region, the Houthis continue to launch attacks that threaten civilians,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a tweet.50px

The UAE, along with Bahrain, signed US-brokered normalization agreements with Israel, dubbed the “Abraham Accords”, in 2020.

The UAE civil aviation authority said air traffic in the Gulf country, a major international travel hub, was normal and all flights operating as usual.

The UAE’s defence ministry said coalition warplanes had destroyed missile launchers that were located in Yemen.

Yemen’s Houthi military spokesman said the group would within hours provide details of a new military operation “deep inside” the UAE.

The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition that has been battling the Houthis for nearly seven years in a conflict largely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The Houthis, who have repeatedly launched missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, have warned they would continue targeting the UAE unless it stopped “interfering” in Yemen.

The UAE had largely ended its military presence on the ground in 2019 but continues to hold sway through Yemeni forces it arms and trains and which recently joined battles against the Houthis in key energy-producing regions.

There were no social media posts on Monday’s interception in the UAE.

The public prosecutor has said it summoned several people for sharing videos showing defence systems intercepting a previous Houthi missile attack.

The coalition has also launched deadly air strikes on Houthi-held areas in the past week in the conflict, which has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.

Afghan Taliban to reopen public universities, no word on female students

Afghanistan’s public universities, closed since the Taliban seized power in August, will reopen in February, the Taliban acting higher education minister said on Sunday, without specifying whether female students would be able to return.

Universities in warmer provinces will reopen from Feb 2, while those in colder areas would reopen on Feb 26, the minister, Shaikh Abdul Baqi Haqqani, told a news conference in Kabul.

He did not say what arrangements if any would be made for female students. In the past, Taliban officials have suggested that women could be taught in separate classes.

So far, the Taliban government has reopened high schools for boys only in most parts of the country. Some private universities have reopened, but in many cases, female students have not been able to return to class.

On January 15, Zabihullah Mujahid, who is also the Taliban’s deputy minister of culture and information, had said their education departments were looking to open classrooms for all girls and women following the Afghan New Year, which starts on March 21.

“We are not against education,” Mujahid had stressed, speaking at a Kabul office building in an interview with The Associated Press.

However, a day later Taliban forces had fired pepper spray at a group of women protesters in Afghanistan’s capital demanding rights to work and education. Around 20 women had gathered in front of Kabul University, chanting “equality and justice” and carrying banners that read “Women’s rights, human rights”, an AFP correspondent had reported.

Western governments have made education for female students a part of their demands as the Taliban seek more foreign aid and the unfreezing of overseas assets.

The hardline group took over the country on August 15 as foreign forces withdrew.