The Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen has rejected accusations from Iran that it was slow to facilitate the evacuation of an Iranian diplomat who later died from complications related to COVID-19.
The Iranian government blamed the “slow cooperation of certain countries” for the death of Hassan Irloo on Tuesday after he was flown out of the Houthi-held capital, Sanaa, on Saturday, in a rare exemption from a Saudi-led air blockade.
On Wednesday, the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, Turki al-Maliki, decried the comments as “defamatory”.
“The coalition has facilitated and provided all necessary transit permits as well as logistical support,” he said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.
“It had facilitated the evacuation on humanitarian grounds, and in recognition of the diplomatic mediation by Oman and Iraq in less than 48 hours of reporting (Irloo’s) health condition,” he added.
Irloo, 63, was named last year as Iran’s ambassador to the areas of the war-torn country controlled by the Houthi rebels. He was flown out of Sanaa on an Iraqi flight after his hosts secured authorisation from the Saudi-led coalition, which has enforced an air and sea blockade on rebel-held territory since August 2016.
Regional rivals Riyadh and Tehran support opposite sides in several conflict zones across the region, including in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in 2015 led a military intervention in support of beleaguered government forces.
Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced in Yemen’s conflict, in what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Meanwhile, the World Food Programme has warned that 16 million Yemenis are “marching towards famine”. On Wednesday, the UN agency announced it would have to reduce food aid to about eight million people, citing a lack of funds.