Iranian Admiral Hossein Azad said that the 34th naval group was in the Gulf of Aden in the Bab-al-Mandab strait and had been given the task of protecting the Iranian aid ship.
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Azad claimed that the naval group included a destroyer and a logistic ship which were in the area on a 90 day anti-piracy assignment. Iranian state TV claimed the ship carried food, medicine, tents, and blankets, as well as reporters, rescue workers, and peace activists. It is expected to arrive at the port of Hodeida next week.
The Pentagon claims that an escort for the ship was not necessary and said that Iran was planning some sort of stunt. If the ship plans to land in Hodeida, held by the Houthis, and the nearest port to the capital Sanaa, they may need an escort. When an Iranian cargo plane tried to land in the capital, the Saudi coalition bombed the runway making it impossible for it to land and preventing any aid coming in to the airport. There is a scheduled five day lull in bombing and hostilities that started yesterday although there are reports of some continuing clashes on the ground.
Washington is not happy with Iran's plan. US Army Col. Steve Warren said that the US is monitoring the cargo ship and said that Iran should send the vessel to Djibouti where there is a hub being set up and Yemen aid efforts are being coordinated. The UN recently was able to dock an aid ship in the rebel-held port in spite of the coalition blockade but has complained about delays in many cases.
The Iranian cargo ship is flying the Red Crescent Society of Iran flag. The head of the Society in Iran, Amir Ziy'ee said that “based on international regulations, no one can inspect a vessel that is moving in international waters carrying the flag of a country,” according to a report on Iranian TV.
The Houthi's expanded their are of control last year including taking the capital Sanaa last September. When UN-sponsored negotiations between Houthis and the Hadi government failed to produce a government agreeable to the Houthi's, Hadi resigned and was put under virtual house arrest. However, he escaped to Aden and declared himself the legitimate president again and tried to set up his own government in Aden, only to be quickly driven out. He fled to the safety of the Saudi capital, Ryadh. Since then, a Saudi-led coalition started a military campaign of bombing and arming loyalists starting in March in a bid to restore Hadi to power. The conflict has killed more than 1,400 people many civilians and caused a humanitarian disaster as vital supplies dwindle.
Iran supports the Houthis, and the Saudis with their Sunni allies are attempting to retain their dominance in Yemen. However, the conflict goes beyond a sectarian issue. The Houthis could never have expanded their area of control to the south and many other areas without the support of ex-president Saleh who still has many in the armed forces loyal to him rather than Hadi. The conflict is further complicated by a strong southern separatist movement who are fighting the Houthis but want independence rather than rule by a Hadi government. The conflict has led to a huge growth in Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula(AQAP) and the area they control. AQAP hates both the Houthis and the Hadi government. There may be little support left in Yemen for Hadi. So far the Saudi campaign has produced even more bloodshed than before without defeating the Houthis, while strengthening the power of AQAP and southern separatists.