Iran could send military advisers to Yemen: official suggests

By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin DUBAI (Reuters) - A senior Iranian military official signaled on Tuesday that Iran could send military advisers to Yemen to help the Shi'ite Houthi group fight a Gulf Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia. Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri, deputy chief of staff of the armed forces, suggested Iran could support the Houthis in a similar way it has backed President Bashar al-Assad's forces in Syria, in an interview with the Tasnim news agency. Asked if Iran would send military advisors to Yemen, as it had in Syria, Jazayeri said: "The Islamic Republic felt its duty to help the Syrian government and nation. It also feels its duty to help the people of Yemen in any way it can, and to any level necessary." Iran has sent thousands of troops and advisors to Syria. Alongside Russian air power, Iranian troops have helped Assad's forces turn the tide against rebel forces supported by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni powers. Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of also backing Yemen's armed Houthi movement, which drove the internationally-recognized government into exile, triggering a Gulf intervention in March. Tehran views the Houthis as the legitimate authority in Yemen but denies providing any material support to them. The Houthis say they are a fighting a revolution against a corrupt government and its Gulf Arab backers. The coalition has committed ground troops to the war effort. The top foreign policy advisor to Iran's supreme leader said last month that cooperation between Iran and Russia could expand to Yemen, after a visit to Moscow. A growing dispute between Riyadh and Tehran, which cut diplomatic ties in January, has harmed the prospects of a peace deal in Yemen. More than 6,000 people have been killed, about half of them civilians, since the start of the Saudi-led intervention a year ago. (Editing by Sam Wilkin and Ralph Boulton)