Tehran: Iran’s foreign minister held talks in neutral Oman on Tuesday about ending the conflict in Yemen where a Saudi-led coalition is waging a bombing campaign against Tehran-backed militia, Iranian media reported.
Oman, which maintains good relations with Iran, is the only one of the six Gulf Arab states that has not joined the coalition air strikes in its western neighbour.
“We discussed ways to send humanitarian aid, establish a ceasefire and start dialogues between the Yemeni groups,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iranian state television from Muscat.
“We are concerned about the continuing air raids against the population in Yemen and irreversible damage to this country,” he added.
“Iran and Oman want peace, security and stability in the region and have the same position on these issues.”
The visit comes as Al Houthi representatives are reportedly also present in Oman.
A delegation of the Al Houthi Ansar Allah group, led by head of the Al Houthi political council, Saleh Al Samad, arrived in Oman on Saturday evening accompanied by Omani officials who flew into Sana’a to pick them up, according to media reports in newspapers close to the Al Houthi militia.
The Omani Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not issued a statement in this regard so far. Diplomatic sources, however, told Gulf News that Zarif discussed the crisis in Yemen with Omani officials as well as ways to put an end to the air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition.
The source added that the two sides had also discussed finding ways to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid for Yemenis, but declined to give further details about whether an Iranian delegation had met with the Al Houthi delegation in Muscat. Iran has repeatedly denied providing support to the Al Houthi militia and its allies as they overran much of Yemen earlier this year.
It has called for an end to the bombing campaign that the Saudi-led coalition launched in support of exiled president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi on March 26 and the opening of a political dialogue.
Oman has served as an avenue for Iranian diplomacy in the past. It hosted secret talks between Tehran and Washington before the official relaunch of negotiations with the major powers on Iran’s nuclear programme in September 2013.
During his visit, Zarif also signed an agreement demarcating the two country’s maritime border in the strategic entrance to the Gulf, Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported.
From Oman, Zarif was to travel on to Kuwait for a ministerial meeting of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
On the ground in Yemen, pro-government fighters have pushed out the Al Houthis and their allies and retaken a southern city that’s the gateway to the port of Aden in their first significant advance since a Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes on the militia group, officials said on Tuesday.
Coalition strikes, which began in March in an effort to halt the power grab of the Al Houthis, also continued on Tuesday across Yemen, targeting positions of the militia and its allies.
Despite the air strikes, the militia had advanced toward the southern port city of Aden over the past weeks and engaged in heavy ground fighting with rival forces in several cities across Yemen. But in a counter-offensive, pro-government fighters managed to capture the city of Dhale and also the command centre of the 33rd Armoured Brigade, officials said.
In capturing Dhale, pro-government fighters also seized large weapons’ and ammunition caches, armoured vehicles, and Katyusha rocket launchers, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to reporters.
Footage aired on the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya network from Dhale showed fighters in one armoured vehicle flying the flag of once-independent South Yemen.
The pro-government forces in the south are allied with Hadi, but also want an independent southern state. Dozens of fighters — both from the pro-government side and the Al Houthis — have been killed in intense clashes the past two weeks. Fighting between the two sides was still under way on Tuesday on the outskirts of Dhale, the officials said.
— with inputs from AFP and AP