Iran’s leader says Saudi air strikes causing Yemen genocide

Ayatollah says ‘Riyadh will not emerge victorious in its aggression’ as conflict rages

Iran's leader has condemned as genocide the military intervention by its main regional rival Saudi Arabia in Yemen, escalating Tehran's rhetoric against the two-week-old air strike campaign.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Saudi Arabia would not emerge victorious from the war in Yemen, where Iran-allied Houthi fighters who control the capital Sana'a have been trying to seize the southern city of Aden from local militias.

Iran has repeatedly urged a halt in the air strikes and called for dialogue in Yemen, but Mr Khamenei's comments are the most critical yet from Tehran about the offensive by Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies.

“This is a crime and genocide that can be prosecuted in international courts ... Riyadh will not emerge victorious in its aggression,” he said.


Iranian president Hassan Rouhani also criticised the coalition assembled by Riyadh, saying it was repeating errors committed in other parts of the Arab world where Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran back rival sides.

They were speaking shortly after Iran said it was sending two warships to sea off Yemen and a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition repeated Riyadh’s accusations - denied by Iran - that it has trained and equipped the Shi’ite Houthi forces.

Iran summoned the Saudi charge d’affaires in Tehran in response to those “baseless accusations”, IRNA news agency said.

Relentless air strikes have not stopped the Houthis, backed by soldiers loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, from advancing into central Aden.

Saudi Arabia says the military campaign aims at curbing the Houthi advances and restoring president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who fled Aden two weeks ago, so UN-brokered political negotiations can resume.

The fighting has killed more than 600 people and displaced more than 100,000, according to the United Nations. Aid workers have warned of a looming humanitarian catastrophe.

Houthi fighters and troops loyal to Mr Saleh entered the provincial capital of the mainly Sunni Muslim Shabwa province in eastern Yemen on Thursday, residents said.

Local tribal chiefs and security officials aided the entry of the Houthi forces to Ataq, where they took control of local government buildings and security forces' compounds, according to residents.

It was the first time the Houthis, from the Zaidi branch of Shi'ite Islam, and forces loyal to Saleh had entered the city, where the fiercely Sunni Muslim Awlaki tribe comes from.

The takeover brings them closer to Yemen’s most prized economic asset, the Belhaf gas facility and export terminal, on the Arabian Sea about 160 km to the southeast.

In another symbolic gain for the Houthis, a YouTube video surfaced on Thursday that appeared to confirm the capture last month by the Houthi fighters of Mr Hadi's brother Naser Mansour Hadi, a senior intelligence official in the south.