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Monday September 23rd, 2019 7:22AM

The Latest: Egypt to Yemen rebels: Halt attacks on Saudis

By The Associated Press
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Latest on Mideast developments amid rising tensions in the Persian Gulf region (all times local):

4:15 p.m.

Egypt says it's standing by Saudi Arabia following the attack by Yemen's Houthi rebels that wounded 26 people at a Saudi airport arrivals hall.

The Foreign Ministry, just hours after the attack took place on Wednesday, said Egypt is calling for an immediate halt to all attacks on Saudi territories and will "defy any attempt to target" the kingdom.

The Iranian-allied Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack, saying they launched a cruise missile at Abha airport in southwest Saudi Arabia in response to the kingdom's war in Yemen.

Egypt backs the Saudi-led coalition of mostly Arab states that has been at war against the Houthis in Yemen since 2015. Riyadh accuses Iran of arming the rebels, which Tehran denies.

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4 p.m.

Saudi Arabia's ally and neighbor Bahrain says it strongly condemns an attack by Yemeni rebels that wounded 26 people at a Saudi airport arrivals hall.

Bahrain says it was a terrorist and cowardly criminal act against innocent civilians.

Iranian-allied Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack, saying they launched a cruise missile at Abha airport in southwest Saudi Arabia in response to the kingdom's war in Yemen.

Bahrain's Foreign Ministry expressed support with "the brotherly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia" and affirmed "the need for a strong-willed international stand against Iran to stop it supporting these recurrent terrorist acts."

The island-nation of Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, has previously also accused Iran of arming and training Shiite Bahraini militant groups, which Iran denies.

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3:25 p.m.

Shinzo Abe has arrived in Tehran on a mission to ease tensions between Iran and the U.S., becoming the first Japanese prime minister to visit since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Abe's flight touched down at Tehran's Mehrabad International Airport on Wednesday afternoon.

His visit is seen as an effort to mediate amid rising tensions in the Persian Gulf region. Just ahead of his arrival, Saudi Arabia said Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacked one of the kingdom's airports, wounding 26 people.

The Houthis said they fired a cruise missile at the Abha regional airport.

Though there were no fatalities, it was the largest number of civilians to be wounded in Saudi Arabia as a result of a rebel attack.

The heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington take root in President Donald Trump's decision a year ago to withdraw from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

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3 p.m.

Iraq's Foreign Ministry says an Omani envoy is in Baghdad to discuss ways of de-escalating U.S.-Iran tensions.

The two-day visit by Yusuf bin Alawi, Oman's minister of state for foreign affairs, comes against a backdrop of high-stakes diplomatic activity aimed at easing tensions between Washington and Tehran. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected in Tehran later on Wednesday.

Spokesman Ahmad Sahhaf told The Associated Press that bin Alawi will discuss "solutions" for regional challenges, adding that Iraq has become a pivotal country because of its "strategic relations with both Iran and the United States."

The Sultanate of Oman often plays a role in mediating regional crises. The visit coincides with a flurry of diplomacy aimed at easing tensions between the U.S. and Iran after President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers.

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2:20 p.m.

Iran's president says that U.S. pressures against his country are losing in strength — the latest defiant rhetoric from Hassan Rouhani amid tensions in the Persian Gulf region.

Rouhani spoke during a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, hours ahead of the arrival of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tehran.

Iranian state TV quoted Rouhani as saying that "America's pressure on the Iranian nation ... has reached its maximum. From today onward, the threats and pressures will lose their capacity and will be exhausted."

Rouhani was referring to America's pullout from Iran's nuclear deal with world powers over a year ago, which is at the root of the current tensions. The tensions further soared over the U.S. recently deploying an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the region.

Abe is expected to try save the increasingly unraveling nuclear deal and ease tensions in between Iran and the United States.

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1:40 p.m.

Japanese foreign minister has met with his Iranian counterpart in Tehran a few hours ahead of the start of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's historic visit to the Islamic Republic.

Wednesday's meeting between Japan's Taro Kono and Iran's Mohammad Javad Zarif focused on issues such as Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers, bilateral issues and regional tensions.

Abe, the first Japanese prime minister to visit Iran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution, is seeking to help ease tensions in between Iran and the United States

Last year, the U.S. withdrew from a nuclear deal re-imposed sanctions on Iran targeting its oil sector. America also recently deployed an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf over a still-unexplained threat it perceives from Tehran.

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1:05 p.m.

The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen says 26 people have been wounded as Yemen's Houthi rebels targeted an airport in kingdom's southwestern town of Abha.

The attack on Wednesday comes as Japan's prime minister is expected in Iran to mediate between Tehran and Washington amid escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf regions.

Coalition spokesman Turki al-Malki says a projectile struck the arrival hall of Abha's airport in the southern part of the kingdom near its border with Yemen on Wednesday. That's according to Saudi Arabia's state-run Al-Ekhabriya news channel.

He says three women and two children are among the 26 hurt in the attack. Eight have been hospitalized and the rest sustained minor injuries. The Houthis earlier on Wednesday claimed they'd launched a cruise missile at the Abha airport.

Saudi Arabia has been at war against the Iranian-allied Houthis in Yemen since 2015. The kingdom accuses Iran of arming the rebels, which Iran denies.

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10:45 a.m.

A hard-line Iranian newspaper has printed a front page image showing the mushroom cloud of a nuclear blast, meant to criticize the Japanese prime minister's close ties with the U.S. ahead of his historic visit to Iran.

The daily Farheekhtegan, or Educated, followed it up with a large headline in both English and Farsi, saying: "How Can You Trust A War Criminal, Mr. Abe?"

The picture appeared to refer to America dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.

Hard-line news outlets in Iran immediately picked up the front page from the paper, published by students of Islamic Azad University, which has campuses across the nation.

On Wednesday, Abe will become the first Japanese prime minister to visit Iran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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