Saudi Arabia rebuffs Iran on calls for Yemen ceasefire

Saudi Arabia on Sunday rejected calls by its regional rival, Iran, to halt a multi-nation air campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen amid escalating tensions between Riyadh and Tehran.

“How can Iran call on us to stop the fighting although the fighting in Yemen has been there for more than a year?” Saudi Foreign Minister Saudi al-Faisal said in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

“We came to Yemen to help the legitimate authority and Iran is not in charge of Yemen.”

Saudi Arabia is leading eight Sunni fellow Arab countries in mounting a campaign of airstrikes against the Houthis, who have taken over vast areas of Yemen.

Saudis have repeatedly accused Shiite Iran of aiding the Shiite Houthis, an accusation denied by both the Yemeni rebels and Tehran.

Iran has condemned the Saudi-led intervention.

Saudi Arabia has vowed to continue the campaign until internationally recognized President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi, a Sunni, is reinstated.

Faisal called on Iran to stay away from Yemen’s conflict, saying its alleged interference in the country’s affairs has worsened the conflict there.

Faisal was speaking at a joint press conference with French Foreign Laurent Fabius, who said his country was ready to help in resolving Yemen’s crisis.

“We hope a solution will be reached on the basis of respecting legitimacy in Yemen,” Fabius said, according to Arabic translation.

Yemen has descended into chaos since September when the Houthis, who hail from the north, overran the capital Sana’a.

Hadi, who fled to Saudi Arabia in late March, meanwhile issued a decree appointing former prime minister Khaled Bahah as vice president.

Bahah, who is also in Saudi Arabia at the moment, tendered his government’s resignation in January after the Houthis besieged him and Hadi in their residences.

Yemeni political analyst Nabil al-Shurjabi said the appointment could signal moves towards a political solution that might include the formation of a presidential council.

There was widespread agreement that there was no realistic prospect of Hadi returning to Yemen, al-Shurbaji argued.

The former prime minister, by contrast, was acceptable to a wide range of forces inside Yemen including those opposed to the Saudi-led offensive, he told dpa

Inside Yemen, at least 11 civilians were killed on Sunday when missiles fired by Saudi-led alliance warplanes mistakenly hit the village of Dhaira in the central region of Taiz, local journalists told dpa.

The strikes destroyed houses in the village located in the vicinity of a Houthi military camp, they added.

The incident is the latest in a series of attacks that caused civilian casualties in Yemen since the Saudi-led campaign started on March 26.

Saudis accuse the Houthis of positioning their military posts amid residential areas.

The Houthis were Sunday locked in a fight with Hadi loyalists for controlling the eastern province of Mareb, a key oil-producing area.

The fight erupted after Houthi insurgents set up a checkpoint in the town of Serwah, about 40 kilometres west of Mareb, to use it as a launch pad for overrunning the province, local tribal sources said.

Three pro-Hadi fighters were killed in the battling.

Earlier this week, the Houthis seized the oil-wealthy city of Ataq in southern Yemen’s Shabwa province.

Further clashes were reported from Shabwa on Sunday.

The rebels are seeking to capture energy-rich areas in the impoverished country to consolidate their hold and finances.

The Saudi-led operation meanwhile received backing from the powerful tribes of Yemen’s south-eastern Hadhramaut province.

The Hadhramaut Tribes Confederacy, in a statement calling for local unity, thanked the coalition for “its action to preserve the stability of Yemen and the wider region.” GNA

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