Monday 22 January 2018

Iran 'sends vessels near Yemen'

Smoke billows from a Saudi-led air strike on Sanaa, Yemen (AP)
Smoke billows from a Saudi-led air strike on Sanaa, Yemen (AP)
A Yemeni man who was wounded in a blast in a Sanaa mosque in March chants slogan against the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia (AP)

Iran has dispatched a naval destroyer and another vessel to waters near Yemen as the United States quickened weapons supply to the Saudi-led coalition striking rebels there, underlining how foreign powers are deepening their involvement in the conflict.

Iran's English-language state broadcaster Press TV quoted Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari as saying the ships would be part of an anti-piracy campaign "safeguarding naval routes for vessels in the region".

The manoeuvre comes amid an intense Saudi-led Gulf Arab air campaign targeting the Yemeni rebels, known as Houthis, who come from a Shia sect.

Critics say that Shia power Iran backs the Houthis, though both the Islamic Republic and the rebels deny any direct military assistance.

Speaking a day earlier in the Saudi capital Riyadh, US deputy secretary of state Antony Blinken blamed the violence in Yemen on the Houthis, and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, saying that the US is committed to defending Saudi Arabia.

"We have expedited weapons deliveries, we have increased our intelligence-sharing, and we have established a joint co-ordination and planning cell in the Saudi operations centre," he said in a statement to reporters after meeting with Saudi royals and Yemen's president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled his country amid rebel advances.

Intelligence-sharing includes making available raw aerial imagery the coalition could use to better strike anti-Hadi forces, said a US defence official.

Mr Blinken said the US and the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council must co-ordinate closely and press all parties to seek a political solution.

The Gulf Arab-backed air campaign supporting Hadi, which began on March 26, has so far failed to stop the Houthis' advance on Aden, Yemen's second-largest city, which was declared the provisional capital by Hadi before he fled.

The US says that the chaos has allowed the local al Qaida branch, which it considers the world's most dangerous wing of the group, to make "great gains" on the ground, causing Washington to rethink how it prevents it from launching attacks in the West.

Speaking from Tokyo, defence secretary Ash Carter said the collapse of the central government in Yemen makes it harder to conduct counter-terrorism operations against al Qaida, which has ambitions to strike Western targets, including the United States.

Regarding the weapons deliveries, he said it involved "some resupply of equipment and munitions" to Saudi Arabia.

The World Health Organisation has warned of an unfolding humanitarian crisis, saying at least 560 people, including dozens of children, have been killed, mostly in the air campaign and ground battles. The aid group said that more than 1,700 people have been wounded and another 100,000 have fled their homes as fighting has intensified over the past three weeks.

The first boat carrying medical aid to Yemen since the coalition began bombing has arrived in the southern port city of Aden, international humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders said.

The group's head of mission in Yemen, Marie-Elisabeth Ingres, said the ship carried some 2.5 tons of supplies from Djibouti for its hospital in Aden.

The group is concerned about how it will transport the supplies and wounded people given the chaos in Aden's streets, where the situation continues to deteriorate and combat intensified overnight.

"We have street fighting, snipers, tanks in the street, roads cut and areas not accessible, and electricity, water and fuel cuts," she said. "Last night the different groups were fighting around the hospital. It lasted all night into the morning and continues now, so all our employees were forced to sleep at the hospital."

Tons of desperately needed aid awaits clearance to be flown into Yemen, including a Red Cross shipment with 17 tons of medical supplies from Jordan which emergency workers hope can be flown into the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. Another 35 tons of supplies were also ready for shipment.

Human Rights Watch cited witnesses as saying that Houthi forces fired into crowds of demonstrators in the cities of Taiz and Torba the day before the bombing campaign began, killing at least seven people and wounding more than 80 others. The New York-based group called on Houthi authorities to investigate the incidents.

"Yemen's spiralling conflict is causing a calamitous breakdown in law and order," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Security forces in control, whatever side they are on, have responsibilities to uphold and protect people's rights and to take action against their members who commit abuses."

Press Association

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