Coalition says it seized Iran boat with arms for Yemen rebels

An armed Yemeni Shiite Huthi rebel stands next to a national flag in the capital Sanaa on September 21, 2015 (AFP Photo/Mohammed Huwais)

Riyadh (AFP) - The Saudi-led coalition said on Wednesday it had seized an Iranian fishing boat in the Arabian Sea loaded with weapons destined for Shiite rebels it is fighting in Yemen.

A coalition statement said that the vessel was intercepted on Saturday and that 14 Iranians and weapons including anti-tank shells were found on board.

It said that papers found on the boat showed that it was registered to an Iranian and was licensed for fishing by the Iranian authorities.

It listed the weapons seized as 18 anti-armoured Concourse shells, 54 anti-tank BGM17 shells, 15 shell battery kits, four firing guidance systems, five binocular batteries, three launchers, one launchers' holder and three batteries.

The vessel was seized 150 nautical miles off the Omani port of Salalah, the coalition statement said.

Also on Wednesday, the Bahrain-based US Fifth Fleet said the Combined Maritime Force patrolling the area intercepted a "stateless" cargo dhow carrying arms headed towards Somalia, in "international waters of the North Arabian Sea".

"Based on statements from the dhow's crew, the port of origin of the dhow and its illicit weapons cache is believed to be Iran. According to the dhow's crew, the vessel's destination was Somalia," the US Navy said in a statement.

The arms carried on the boat seized on Friday "included anti-tank weaponry suspected to be of Iranian and Russian origin", it said.

The statement did not make any link between the Somalia-bound boat and the one claimed captured by the coalition, saying that the crew was allowed to depart after the weapons were confiscated.

Saudi Arabia and its coalition allies have repeatedly accused their Shiite rival Iran of arming the Huthi rebels who control swathes of Yemen, including the capital.

But despite operating an air and sea blockade for the past six months, they have not previously come up with any evidence.

The coalition intervened in support of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi when the rebels advanced on his last refuge Aden in March, prompting him to flee the country.

In May, an Iranian boat headed to the rebel-controlled Red Sea port of Hodeida with 2,500 tonnes of aid was diverted to Djibouti following warnings from the coalition and the United States.

Wednesday's coalition announcement comes with relations between Riyadh and Tehran at a new low amid a war of words over a deadly stampede at this year's hajj in which at least 239 Iranian pilgrims were killed.

Tehran accuses Riyadh of serious safety lapses and has questioned its fitness to continue organising the annual Muslim pilgrimage.

On Wednesday, Tehran summoned the Saudi envoy to demand the swift identification and repatriation of the bodies of Iranian pilgrims killed in last week's stampede.

Iran fears that 241 of its nationals who are unaccounted for may be among the bodies yet to be identified.

Its supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has demanded that Saudi Arabia apologise to the bereaved and to the world's Muslims.

Riyadh has accused Tehran of playing politics with tragedy.

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