x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Yemenis protest against Iran for alleged support of rebels

Sana'a faces growing demands to break off relations with Tehran, as fighting continues between the army and al Houthi insurgents in northern provinces.

SANA'A // Dozens of Yemenis protested yesterday against alleged Iranian support to northern rebels and demanded the expulsion of the Iranian ambassador and the suspension of relations with Tehran. The protesters, mobilised by non-governmental organisations backed by the government, shouted slogans against what Yemen says is Iranian support for al Houthis, who are Shiites.

The demonstrators shouted: "No to the plot of Persian expansion", "No to Persian interference in Yemen" and "Yemen will remain free and independent, while gathered in front of the Iranian Embassy in Sana'a. Anti-riot police were not present. "Iranian and Persian intervention in Yemen's internal affairs has become clearly visible. Nobody will believe the lies of the Iranian politicians and its religious institutions that they do not support their mercenaries and gangs of sabotage and terrorism - Events and documents have shown there was an unlimited Iranian support to the rebels," a statement read during the protest said.

The "Iran leadership - could not hide its dreams of re-establishing its Persian empire on Arab land to the extent that the Iran Embassy in our country turned into an operation room for those who sold themselves to the devil and in this way, Iran has violated all international conventions and ethics of relations between countries," the statement said. The protest follows similar protests in Tehran by Iranian students against the Saudi-Yemeni offensive against al Houthis in the north of the country. Hundreds of Iranian university students on Tuesday staged protests in front of the Saudi and Yemen embassies in Tehran "over the killing of innocents".

They also chanted slogans against Saudi and Yemeni officials, calling them perpetrators of US and Israeli policies in confronting Muslims. According to Iran's state-owned English-language Press TV, the Iranian protesters handed a letter over to the foreign ministry on Tuesday, urging the government to deport the Saudi ambassador to Tehran in protest against his country's assault on Yemeni rebels.

Yemen said yesterday it had ordered the closing of the Iranian hospital and clinic in Sana'a because of what it called Iran's lack of transparency in their accounts. Pro-government newspapers several weeks ago accused the two facilities, which are both run by the Iranian Red Crescent, of being a means for Iranian funding of the rebels. The government accuses the al Houthis of wanting to restore the Zaidi imamate overthrown in a 1962 revolution and of being supported by parties in Shiite-led Iran, the main regional rival of Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia. The rebels say they are fighting social, economic and religious marginalisation by the Sana'a authorities and accuse Saudi Arabia of backing the government.

Fierce fighting continues between the army and al Houthi insurgents in the northern province of Sa'ada and the Harf Sufian district of neighbouring Arman province. The government launched a massive offensive on August 11 against the rebels who belong to the Zaidi sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam. The rebels have been fighting a sporadic war against Yemen's government since 2004 and have repeatedly accused the Saudi army of backing Yemeni troops.

Saudi Arabia joined the battle this month after the Houthis attacked Jebel al-Dukhan inside the Saudi border. That incursion killed a Saudi border guard and injured 11 others, Saudi officials say. Al Houthis said more than 586 missiles have been launched by the Saudi army on rebel areas. They claimed in an e-mailed statement to the media yesterday that the Saudi air force carried out more than 15 raids, targeting the districts of Razeh, Saqin, al Malahidh, Shada and Haidan.

The Houthis said Saudi troops tried to enter Yemeni territory yesterday morning, but were repelled and two of their tanks were destroyed, the statement said. The rebels aired a video clip late Tuesday of what they claimed showed them repelling a Saudi march near al Rumaih mountain as well as interviews with Saudi infantry soldiers. Saudi Arabia denied reports that its military had entered Yemen to strike the rebels.

The Yemeni army said in a statement yesterday it killed a number of rebels in battles in Sa'ada and Harf Sufian, without giving an exact figure. Among the slain rebels is Abood Shamlan, a leading rebel, it claimed. The statement also said a vehicle loaded with weapons was damaged in Mahza village in Sa'ada. Such reports could not be verified by independent sources because Sa'ada is closed to media.

In addition to the insurgency in the north, Yemen is facing a growing secessionist uprising in the south, the threat of an expanding al Qa'eda presence and economic hardships, including the depletion of oil and water resources. Five protesters were killed and six others - including four policemen - injured yesterday in clashes between southern protesters and police in the southern province of Shabwah, according to local sources.

Hundreds took to the streets of Attak yesterday to demand the release of hundreds of people arrested in previous protests. Dozens were reportedly killed and injured in the previous protests. The protesters, who belong to the separatist movement carried flags of the former southern republic, which merged with the north in 1990. Nasser Huwaidar, a leading activist in the southern movement accused the government of drawing them to violence.

malqadhi@thenational.ae