As the first full day of a tenuous ceasefire takes hold in Yemen, a top Iranian general has warned both the United States and Saudi Arabia against interferring with a cargo vessel, said to be carrying humanitarian aid, as it continued toward the coast of the war-torn nation.
U.S. and Saudi officials have said Tehran's sending of the ship, which is travelling under what the Iranians have called the "safeguard" of a naval escort, is provocative amid ongoing hostilities in Yemen, but Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, the deputy chief of staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, responded on Iran's state-operated Al-Alam television late Tuesday by saying that Iran would not be intimidated.
"I bluntly declare that the self-restraint of Islamic Republic of Iran is not limitless," Gen. Jazayeri was quoted as saying. "Both Saudi Arabia and its novice rulers, as well as the Americans and others, should be mindful that if they cause trouble for the Islamic Republic with regard to sending humanitarian aid to regional countries, it will spark a fire, the putting out of which would definitely be out of their hands."
On Tuesday, a senior Iranian commander said that Iran’s navy will protect the cargo ship on route to Yemen.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran’s 34th naval group, which is currently in the Gulf of Aden and Bab al-Mandab Strait, is responsible for supporting Iran’s humanitarian aid cargo ship," Admiral Hossein Azad told Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) on Tuesday.
Azad said the naval group includes the Alborz destroyer and the Bushehr logistic ship, which are both currently on a 90-day mission. The ships, he said, are "demonstrating Iran’s naval might" and are designed to "insure the security of international shipping lines and defend [Iranian] interests."
On Tuesday, U.S. officials declared that Iran should divert its shipment of humanitarian aid across the Red Sea to the African nation of Djibouti.
As the Middle East Eye reported early Wednesday:
The US military is tracking the ship after Tehran reportedly said it would send warships to escort the vessel to Yemen, a Pentagon spokesman, Colonel Steven Warren, told reporters.
The ship, the Iran Shahed, had moved through the Strait of Hormuz and was now in the Gulf of Oman, according to the website marinetraffic.com. But the vessel was not under any naval escort at the moment, Warren said.
“We are monitoring the Iranian ship,” he said. “We are aware of the Iranians’ statement that they plan to escort this ship with warships.”
The state Iranian IRNA news agency earlier quoted a naval commander, Rear Admiral Hossein Azad, saying naval forces would be “safeguarding” the vessel.
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Iran’s Red Crescent had said last week that it would send a ship carrying 2,500 tons of humanitarian aid to Yemen, where Tehran-backed Houthi rebels are fighting pro-government forces supported by a Saudi-led coalition.
“The Iranians have stated that this is humanitarian aid,” Warren said.
“If that is the case, then we certainly encourage the Iranians to deliver that humanitarian aid to the United Nations humanitarian aid distribution hub, which has been established in Djibouti.
“This will allow the aid to be rapidly and efficiently distributed to those in Yemen who require it,” he added.
When asked if the US military would try to search the ship or prevent it from docking in Yemen, Warren declined to comment.
According to UN agencies, nearly 12 million Yemenis are currently without access to adequate supplies of food, water, and medicine.
A military campaign of shelling and airstrikes against Yemen, led by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states with coordination and logistics from the U.S. military, began on March 19. A proposed five-day ceasefire was said to go into effect on Tuesday, but sporadic fighting and continued bombing was reported overnight.
International aid agencies, as well as the United Nations, have expressed hope much needed aid and humanitarian assistance can be provided if the ceasefire can hold, but few think five days is an adequately large window.
As the BBC reports:
Two cargo ships chartered by the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) are docked at the rebel-controlled Red Sea port of Hudaydah. Other supplies are ready to be brought in and planes are standing by to help evacuate the wounded.
However, the charity Oxfam has warned that five days is "not enough time to move supplies into and around the country, particularly with fuel supplies dangerously low."
Valerie Amos, head of the UN humanitarian mission, urged all sides to respect the truce and said that aid shipments should not be "politicized" by any party.
"This pause will provide a respite for civilians and allow the delivery of food, medical supplies and other essential items to people who have been trapped in conflict zone," she said.