Iran's envoy to Yemen's Houthis dies of COVID-19 after coming home - statement

Ambassador Hasan Irlu "was evacuated in poor condition due to delayed cooperation from certain countries."

 Iranian envoy to Yemen's Houthi movement, Hasan Irlu (illustrative). (photo credit: FARS NEWS AGENCY)
Iranian envoy to Yemen's Houthi movement, Hasan Irlu (illustrative).
(photo credit: FARS NEWS AGENCY)

Iran's envoy to Yemen's rebel Houthi movement has died of COVID-19 after being repatriated last week, Iran's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

Ambassador Hasan Irlu "was evacuated in poor condition due to delayed cooperation from certain countries," ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told state media, without naming any country.

The spokesman appeared to be referring to Saudi Arabia, which along with Iraq had helped in Irlu's transfer from the Yemeni capital Sanaa on board an Iraqi plane, according to a Houthi spokesman.

The Saudi government media office CIC did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Iranian flag flies in front of the UN office building, housing IAEA headquarters, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria, May 24, 2021. (credit: LISI NIESNER/ REUTERS)Iranian flag flies in front of the UN office building, housing IAEA headquarters, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria, May 24, 2021. (credit: LISI NIESNER/ REUTERS)

Saudi Arabia and Iran, the region's Sunni and Shi'ite Muslim powerhouses, launched direct talks this year at a time when global powers are trying to salvage a nuclear pact with Tehran and as UN-led efforts to end the Yemen war stall.

Khatibzadeh honored Irlu as a "martyr," saying he was a survivor of chemical attacks in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

Last December, the US Treasury blacklisted Irlu, describing him as an official of Iran's elite Quds Force, the overseas arm of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and a pillar of Iranian efforts to project its power in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere.

"We have lost a great friend," Houthi Deputy Foreign Minister Hussein al-Ezzi said, offering condolences on Twitter.

Two Yemeni political sources close to the movement and a foreign source said Irlu had recently kept a low profile due to illness and political tension. The Yemeni sources said some Houthi leaders had resented perceived "interference" by Irlu.

A Houthi spokesman did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthis after the movement ousted the internationally recognized government from Sanaa.