Iranians denounce airstrikes in Yemen, warn others not to 'play with fire'

Iranians denounce airstrikes in Yemen, warn others not to 'play with fire'
A Yemeni collects his belongings after his house was hit by an airstrike of the Saudi-led coalition targeting Houthi rebels' positions in Sana, the capital, on March 31. (Yahya Arhab / European Pressphoto Agency)

Amid a burst of harsh new rhetoric from Iran, the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition on Tuesday staged a sixth day of airstrikes against Shiite Muslim Houthi rebel targets across the country.

Naval bombardment struck Houthi positions on the outskirts of the southern port city of Aden, the country's main commercial hub. In the capital, Sana, the roar of airstrikes and anti-aircraft fire filled the early hours and continued into the afternoon. Yemeni officials said the strikes were aimed at Houthi bases and arms caches.


The Saudi-led air war began last week after the rebels, who are aligned with the Saudis' Shiite rival Iran, set their sights on Aden. The Houthi onslaught in the south prompted Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi -- who had taken shelter in Aden after Sana fell to the rebels -- to flee. Saudi Arabia, which shares a long land border with Yemen, is demanding Hadi's reinstatement.

The Houthis have the backing of Ali Abdullah Saleh, a Yemeni president who was toppled in the Arab Spring uprisings that began sweeping the region four years ago.

With Arab Sunni Muslim states lining up in support of the Saudis, the escalating fighting in poor but strategic Yemen drew a series of harsh warnings from Iran. Already, analysts had been sounding the alarm about the increasingly sectarian nature of the fighting in Yemen and its potential for widening along Sunni-Shiite lines.

"The fire of war in the region ... will drag [in] the whole region to play with fire," Iran's deputy foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, said in Kuwait, according to Agence France-Presse. "This is not in the interest of the nations in the region."

Mohammad Reza Naqdi, commander of Iran's Basij force, predicted the Saudi-led offensive would suffer "a fate like that of Saddam Hussein," the executed Iraqi president overthrown by a U.S.-led invasion.

Iran demands an immediate halt to the military campaign and has urged a negotiated political settlement. Power-sharing talks had broken down before the Saudi-led campaign began.

International organizations, meanwhile, expressed concern about the rising civilian death toll in Yemen. Dozens of people were reported killed and injured in an apparent airstrike Monday on a camp for the displaced near the Saudi frontier, but the exact figure remained unclear.

The United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross both called on all sides to exercise restraint in order to protect civilian lives, and the Red Cross appealed for the safe passage of shipments of medical supplies.

Iran's news agency IRNA, meanwhile, reported that Tehran had sent 22 tons of humanitarian aid to Yemen, consisting of food and medicine. It was the first such shipment since the start of the bombardment.

The Iranian statement said the aid was flown in, but did not say to where. Fighting has closed Yemen's international airports, and the Saudi military says the coalition controls Yemeni airspace. Coalition warships are also blockading Yemen's coast.

Iran has provided aid to the Houthis, but insists it is not arming them. The Tehran government reiterated those denials Tuesday in a Foreign Ministry statement that also renewed denunciations of the air campaign.

Times staff writer King reported from Cairo and special correspondent Mostaghim from Tehran.

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