U.S. Sends Carrier to Yemen Waters with Eye on Iran Convoy

A U.S. aircraft carrier was headed to the Arabian Sea Tuesday as Washington said it was monitoring Iranian vessels suspected of carrying weapons to Huthi rebels in Yemen in violation of a U.N. embargo.

In Geneva meanwhile the U.N. health agency said more than 900 people had been killed in Yemen since late March, when a Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes against Iran-backed rebels clashing with pro-government forces.

And the International Organization for Migration announced a temporary suspension of its evacuation efforts due to a lack of security.

Amid reports of a nine-ship Iranian convoy in the area, the U.S. Navy said it was sending the USS Theodore Roosevelt and guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy "to ensure the vital shipping lanes in the region remain open and safe".

The deployment brings to nine the number of U.S. warships in the area, but the Pentagon denied reports the U.S. warships had orders to intercept the Iranian vessels.

Strategically located on key shipping routes and bordering oil-rich Saudi Arabia, Yemen was plunged into chaos last year when the Huthi rebels seized the capital Sanaa.

The coalition of Sunni Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia launched an air campaign against the rebels last month, vowing to restore the authority of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled to Riyadh as the rebels advanced on his southern refuge Aden.

The United States says it is not taking part directly in the strikes, but is providing intelligence and logistical support.

Coalition warplanes pressed their air strikes against the rebels and their allies in the security forces overnight, as the civilian death toll from a Monday raid on a missile depot in the capital rose to 38.

A further 532 people were wounded when the twin strikes sparked powerful explosions that flattened nearby houses, medics said.

The base was held by the elite Republican Guard, which remains loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh who has been accused of siding with the Huthis in their fight against Hadi's forces.

Rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam slammed the strikes on the base as a "barbaric crime", insisting on his Facebook page that the "aggression will only unite the Yemeni people."

The coalition says it has carried out more than 2,000 strikes since the start of the campaign, gaining complete control of Yemeni airspace and knocking out rebel infrastructure.

Fighting continued to rage on the ground, with clashes between pro-Hadi forces and rebels in third city Taez leaving 18 Huthis and four pro-army militiamen dead overnight, according to a medical source.

The World Health Organization said Tuesday that the violence has left 944 people dead and 3,487 wounded as of April 17, based on numbers from health facilities in Yemen.

But the true numbers are likely higher since many people are not making it to hospitals for treatment, the WHO said.

IOM spokesman Joel Millman meanwhile said the migration agency had been forced to suspend its operations to evacuate foreign nationals "until further notice" due to "escalating difficulties faced in undertaking flight operations in recent days".

Any chance of a swift diplomatic solution faded as Saudi ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi told U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon "certain conditions" must be met for the air campaign to be suspended.

He said those were clearly spelled out in a resolution adopted by the U.N. Security Council last week which imposed the arms embargo on the rebels.

The resolution demands that the Huthis pull back from all the territory they have seized, including from Sanaa, and that they return to peace talks.

Ban had called on Thursday for an "immediate ceasefire" and time for a "passage to real peace."

Yemen has long struggled with deep tribal divisions and an insurgency by Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), considered by Washington as the jihadist network's most dangerous branch.

Al-Qaeda has taken advantage of the chaos to seize swathes of territory in Hadramawt province in the southeast, including its capital Mukalla.

Source: Agence France Presse

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