Followers of the Houthi movement raise their rifles as they shout slogans against the Saudi-led air strikes in Sanaa.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Saudi Arabia dismissed Iranian calls to end air strikes on neighboring Yemen on Sunday as Saudi-led attacks hit a military camp in the Yemeni city of Taiz, killing eight civilians, according to a medical source.
The air raids were aimed at a site held by soldiers loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who have joined up with Iranian-allied Houthi rebels against local militias in the South, the source said.
A diplomatic solution to the war seems to be unlikely any time soon, as Yemen’s government-in-exile said it was considering cutting off diplomatic relations with Iran, sources close to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who fled to Riyadh, said. The sources were speaking to the London-based, Saudi-backed daily Asharq al-Awsat.
“Yemen’s presidency is considering cutting diplomatic ties with Iran after it was proved that Tehran has been providing assistance to the Houthi rebels, including logistical support,” one source was quoted as saying in a report published on Sunday.
The source also said the Iranians were on the ground in Yemen in order to aid the Houthis, adding that Iranian students, with tacit government support, broke windows of the country’s embassy in Tehran and stormed the building, where they destroyed documents and tore up pictures of Hadi.
Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies began air strikes against Houthi fighters in Yemen more than two weeks ago in an effort tom prevent further advances.
“How can Iran call for us to stop the fighting in Yemen?” Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said on Sunday in Riyadh at a joint news conference with his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius.
“We came to Yemen to help the legitimate authority, and Iran is not in charge of Yemen.”
At a news conference held Sunday in Tehran, Brig. Gen. Ahmad Reza Pourdastan, commander of Iran’s ground forces, said: “The Saudi army is a hired army [of mercenaries] and now that no bullet has yet been fired at it, we see the symptoms of defeat in them already.” Pourdastan’s remarks were reported by the Fars News Agency.
On Thursday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the air strikes a “crime and genocide,” while President Hassan Rouhani called for a cease-fire and dialogue among Yemen’s factions.
A Saudi defense ministry statement carried by the state news agency SPA said on Saturday that more than 500 Houthi fighters had been killed in clashes on the border since the conflict began on March 26, but did not say how it came by that figure.
Meanwhile, a Saudi border guard commander told Asharq al-Awsat that the country’s border with Yemen was secure despite the fact that a Houthi mortar shell fired from across the border had killed three army officers on Friday.
“Things along the border are safe and secure. Our soldiers’ morale is high and they are performing their duties to a high level,” Gen. Ahmed al-Ghamdi said.
Saudi Arabia is considering evacuating 96 villages near its border with Yemen as it fears more Houthi attacks, the Saudi Gazette reported on Sunday.
Iran has denied reports that Iranian military advisers were captured in Aden, the state news agency IRNA reported on Sunday.
“Iran has no kind of military force in Yemen,” it quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian as saying.
Local militiamen in Aden said on Saturday that they had captured two Iranian military officers advising Houthi rebels.
Three militia sources said the Iranians, identified as a colonel and a captain, were seized in two separate districts that had been rocked by heavy gun battles.
“The initial investigation revealed that they are from the Quds Force and are working as advisers to the Houthi militia,” one of the sources told Reuters, referring to a special forces unit in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
In a sign of the Yemeni military’s weakening control, suspected al-Qaida members killed an army colonel in the central Shabwa province on Sunday, a local official said.
Separately, an al-Qaida leader was killed in an apparent US drone strike on a group of terrorists west of the port city of Mukalla, on the Arabian Sea, residents told Reuters.
It was the first reported drone strike against the powerful Yemeni branch of the global Islamist group since the US evacuated about 100 special forces troops advising Yemeni forces last month.