US warns Iran against sending aid ship to Yemen
The US military is tracking the ship after Tehran reportedly said it would send warships to escort the vessel to Yemen, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren told reporters.
The ship, the Iran Shahed, had moved through the Strait of Hormuz and was now in the Gulf of Oman, according to the marinetraffic.com site. But the vessel was not under any naval escort at the moment, Warren said.
“We are monitoring the Iranian ship,” he said. “We are aware of the Iranians’ statement that they plan to escort this ship with warships.”
The state Iranian IRNA news agency earlier quoted a naval commander, Rear Admiral Hossein Azad, saying naval forces would be “safeguarding” the vessel.
Iran’s Red Crescent had said last week that it would send a ship carrying 2,500 tons of humanitarian aid to Yemen, where Tehran-backed Huthi rebels are fighting pro-government forces supported by a Saudi-led coalition.
“The Iranians have stated that this is humanitarian aid,” Warren said.
“If that is the case, then we certainly encourage the Iranians to deliver that humanitarian aid to the United Nations humanitarian aid distribution hub, which has been established in Djibouti.”
“This will allow the aid to be rapidly and efficiently distributed to those in Yemen who require it,” he added.
When asked if the US military would try to search the ship or prevent it from docking in Yemen, Warren declined to comment.
State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke confirmed the United States was “certainly tracking this convoy closely.”
“We would discourage any provocative actions,” he added.
The warnings from Washington raised the possibility of a potential confrontation at sea after tensions flared in recent days in the Strait of Hormuz.
The US Navy bolstered its presence in the Gulf after Iran seized a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel in the vital waterway.
Iranian authorities later released the ship, citing a commercial dispute with Denmark’s Maersk group, which chartered the vessel.
“If the Iranians are planning some sort of stunt in the region, they know as well as we do that it would be unhelpful and in fact could potentially threaten the ceasefire (in Yemen) that has been so painstakingly brought about,” Warren said.
“We call on the Iranians to do the right thing here and deliver their humanitarian aid in accordance with UN protocols which is through the distribution hub that’s been established in Djibouti,” he added.
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A senior Iranian military official has warned the Saudi-led coalition targeting Yemeni rebels that blocking an Iranian aid ship bound for Yemen will “spark a fire,” as a five-day humanitarian cease-fire appeared to hold early Wednesday after going into effect the day before.
“Both Saudi Arabia and its novice rulers, as well as the Americans and others, should be mindful that if they cause trouble for the Islamic Republic with regard to sending humanitarian aid to regional countries, it will spark a fire, the putting out of which would definitely be out of their hands.”
Iran says the ship, which departed Monday, is carrying food, medicine, tents and blankets, as well as reporters, rescue workers and peace activists. It says the ship is expected to arrive at Yemen’s port city of Hodeida next week. Iran’s navy said Tuesday it will protect the ship.
Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri, a military spokesman, said Tuesday that no ship would be permitted to reach Yemen unless there was prior coordination with the coalition, and that if Iran wants to deliver humanitarian aid it should do so through the United Nations.
In Washington, U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren said the American military is monitoring the cargo ship and warned that it would not be helpful if Iran is “planning some sort of stunt.” He said the Iranian naval escort is not necessary and that Iran should send the cargo vessel to Djibouti, where humanitarian efforts for Yemen are being coordinated.
The U.S., which supports the coalition, and Saudi Arabia have accused Iran of arming the Yemeni rebels, known as Houthis. Iran supports the rebels, but both Tehran and the Houthis deny it has provided weapons to them.
A five-day humanitarian cease-fire began Tuesday night, just hours after Saudi-led warplanes targeted the Shiite rebels and their allies.
There were reports of continued ground fighting in some areas, with security officials and witnesses saying fierce combat broke out about a half-hour after the cease-fire began when rebels tried to storm the southern city of Dhale, firing tank shells, rockets and mortars. But no airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition were reported.
The conflict has killed more than 1,400 people — many of them civilians — since March 19, according to the U.N. The country of some 25 million people has endured shortages of food, water, medicine and electricity as a result of a Saudi-led naval, air and land blockade.