British technical support for Saudi op in Yemen: Hammond

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond on March 23, 2015 in Riyadh (AFP Photo/Fayez Nureldine) (AFP/File)

Washington (AFP) - Britain will provide technical support to Saudi Arabia's intervention in Yemen under the allies' existing close military relationship, Foreign Minister Philip Hammond said Friday.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, Hammond said he had visited Riyadh on Monday and that Britain backs the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council operation against Huthi rebels.

"We will provide support to the Saudi and GCC operation in every way we can, but we're clearly not going to get involved in military action itself," he said.

Asked what practical support Britain could provide, he said: "Political support, of course, logistical and technical support.

"The UK has a strong relationship with the Saudi Air Force. We train the Saudi Air Force, a large part of which is equipped with British aircraft; Tornadoes and Typhoons and UK munitions."

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia launched an aerial bombardment of positions held by Huthi rebels fighting the government of Yemen's President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

The Huthi, members of Yemen's Shiite minority, are accused by Sunni governments of seeking -- with their Shiite rival Iran's support -- to overthrow a legitimate government.

Hammond said Britain partly shared this view.

"The UK's position is very much aligned with the US position -- we back the Saudi activity as a legitimate intervention on the behalf of the legitimate government of Yemen," he said.

"The Iranians clearly have backed the Huthi, but the Huthi are clearly not Iranian proxies in the way that Hezbollah is an Iranian proxy," he said, referring to the Lebanese Shiite armed movement.

"The Huthis are their own people," he said.

But he cautioned: "Saudi interlocutors would say '10 years ago, that was how Hezbollah were, and now Hezbollah is an arm of the Iranian state.'

"So I don't think we can be complacent about the relationship between the Huthis and Iran but it's probably wrong to think of the Huthis as wholly controlled by Iran at this point in time."