Saudi university catches fire near Yemen border in attack

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — A Saudi university near the country’s border with Yemen caught fire early Thursday after the kingdom’s air defenses intercepted a barrage of ballistic missiles and bomb-laden drones.

The interception scattered debris on Jizan University’s campus, which caused a fire that has been contained, the Saudi-led coalition at war in Yemen said in a statement. It said no one was killed, and there were no immediate reports of injuries.

Video on social media purportedly showed a Patriot missile flying low across Jizan to intercept a missile or drone, with it detonating over the city.

The barrage came just hours after Saudi Arabia warned Iran its recent decision to push its nuclear enrichment to its highest level ever risked raising tensions in the Mideast.

The Saudi statement blamed the Iran-backed Houthi group for the attack, saying the five ballistic missiles and four bomb-laden drones specifically targeted civilian areas and had been launched from the rebels’ stronghold of Saada in Yemen.

Houthi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yehia Sarie tweeted Thursday that his group had launched 11 missiles and drones at Saudi Arabia, targeting the kingdom’s Patriot defense system, oil sites and other “critical” areas in Jizan. Sarie did not mention the university.

The conflict in Yemen was sparked by the Houthis takeover of the capital, Sanaa, in 2014, which forced the internationally recognized government to flee the city. A Saudi-led coalition, which until recently was supported by the U.S., has been fighting the Houthis nearly ever since.

The U.N. humanitarian office says the war has caused an estimated 233,000 deaths, including 131,000 from indirect causes such as lack of food, health services and infrastructure. The conflict came on the heels of years of unrest and protests in Yemen against endemic corruption and government mismanagement.

Political deadlock and conflict in Yemen have created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Aid groups report more than 20 million people in the impoverished Arab nation are experiencing food insecurity and half of them are at risk of famine.

Rights groups have criticized all sides in the conflict, but note that Saudi-led airstrikes have often been disproportionate and killed thousands of civilians.

Since the war began, the Houthis have launched over 550 bomb-laden drones and more than 350 ballistic missiles toward Saudi Arabia, the kingdom told The Associated Press in April.

On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department issued a warning to Americans to reconsider travel to the kingdom over the missile and drone attacks, as well as the coronavirus pandemic.

“Missile and drone attacks perpetrated by Iran and Iran-supported militant groups represent a significant threat,” the warning said. “U.S. citizens living and working near military bases and critical civilian infrastructure, particularly near the border with Yemen, are at heightened risk of missile, drone and rocket attacks.