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UN Experts Say Iran Might Want To Help End War In Yemen

Yemen -- Yemeni men inspect the damages at a factory allegedly targeted by Saudi-led coalition's airstrikes in the Red Sea town of Hodeidah on July 27, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / ABDO HYDER
Yemen -- Yemeni men inspect the damages at a factory allegedly targeted by Saudi-led coalition's airstrikes in the Red Sea town of Hodeidah on July 27, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / ABDO HYDER

U.N. experts say Iran might be willing to play "a constructive role" in ending the war in Yemen, though adding in a new report that Tehran still appears to be arming Yemen's Houthi Shiite rebels with ballistic missiles and drones.

According to excerpts of a report to the Security Council obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, the panel of experts monitoring sanctions against Yemen raised the long-rumored possibility of Iran playing a role in restoring peace.

"The panel believes that Iran might now be willing to play a constructive role in finding a peaceful solution for Yemen, as evident in the country's, ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to broker a cease-fire for the holy month of Ramadan together with some European nations," the report said.

Iran has expanded its influence far beyond its borders in recent years, sponsoring tens of thousands of Shiite militiamen spread across Iraq and Syria and on to Lebanon. The rivalry between the predominantly Shiite Muslim nation of Iran and Sunni Muslim-dominated Saudi Arabia has torn the region apart, playing out on regional battlefields and fanning sectarian flames in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen, all costly interventions for Tehran.

With the United States set to restore sanctions on Iran next week that were lifted under the nuclear deal that President Donald Trump has abandoned, the Iranian currency has been in freefall, giving rise to fears of prolonged economic suffering and further civil unrest in the country.

The Yemen conflict follows the Houthi takeover of the capital of Sanaa in 2014, which routed the internationally recognized government. A Saudi-led coalition allied with the government has fighting the Houthis since 2015.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the architect of the coalition intervention, and Abu Dhabi's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyans view the Houthis as direct proxies of an Iran emboldened by its battlefield successes in Iraq and Syria.

The U.N. and Western nations say Iran has supplied the Houthis with weapons, from assault rifles to the ballistic missiles they have fired deep into Saudi Arabia, including at the capital, Riyadh. Iran denies supplying any weapons to the Houthis.

But the panel of experts said in the latest report covering the first six months of 2018 that inspection of debris from 10 missiles launched into Saudi Arabia and unmanned aerial drones used by the Houthis "show characteristics similar to weapons systems known to be produced in the Islamic Republic of Iran."

In its previous report in January, the experts said Iran violated a U.N. arms embargo by directly or indirectly providing missiles and drones to the Houthis.

In the latest report, the experts said: "It seems that despite the targeted arms embargo, the Houthis continue to have access to ballistic missiles and UAVs to continue and possibly intensify their campaign against targets in KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)."

The panel said there was a "high probability" that the ballistic missiles were manufactured outside Yemen, shipped in sections, and re-assembled by the Houthis.

The experts said their inspection of the debris also turned up power converters produced by a Japanese company and Cyrillic markings on components, suggesting a possible Russian link.

The stalemated three-year-old war in Yemen has killed more than 10,000 people, left around two-thirds of the population of 27 million relying on aid, and 8.4 million wondering where their next meal will come from and on the brink of starvation.

"The Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrikes and the use of explosive ordnance by Houthi forces throughout the first half of 2018 continue to affect civilians and civilian objects," including schools and hospitals, the panel said.

The experts said the panel also still receives "evidence of widespread violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law by all parties to the conflict."

"The rule of law continues to deteriorate across Yemen regardless of who controls the particular territory," the panel said.

The experts said arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, and torture "continue to be committed by all parties to the conflict."