Bombing deepens Iran-Saudi rift

January 9, 2016 12:00 pm
Tension rises as Tehran accuses Saudi-led coalition of sending war planes to attack embassy in .



 Houthis in Yemen protested outside the Saudi embassy in Sanaa after the execution of Nimr al-Nimr. Photo / AP.

yesterday accused the Saudi-led coalition of sending warplanes
to bomb its embassy in Yemen, deepening a poisonous rift between the two
countries.
A spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Minister, Hossein
Jaber Ansari, blamed for “damage to the embassy building
and the injury to some of its staff”.
But residents in the capital of Sanaa said an air strike had missed the compound by 700m.
Iran
and Saudi Arabia have been fighting a proxy war in Yemen for nine
months, with Riyadh leading bombing raids against Iran-backed rebels who
forced the country’s internationally recognised President into exile in
March last year.
Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia came to
the boil last week after Riyadh announced it had executed a Shia cleric
whose fate Tehran had followed closely.

Last weekend, mobs set fire to the Saudi embassy and consulate
in the Iranian capital, prompting Riyadh and several of its Gulf and
African allies to sever or downgrade diplomatic relations with Tehran.
Although
an Associated Press reporter in Sanaa said he saw no damage to the
Iranian embassy yesterday, the provocation of a nearby strike was enough
to prompt further retaliation from the Iranian Government.
“The
Cabinet has banned the entry of all Saudi products and products from
Saudi Arabia,” the Government said, noting that a ban on Iranians
travelling to the Saudi holy city of Mecca for the umrah pilgrimage was
also in place “until further notice”.
Saudi officials could not
be reached for comment on the Iranian claims. But the kingdom’s Deputy
Crown Prince dismissed any suggestion that the row could spill over into
outright war.
“It is something that we do not foresee at all,
and whoever is pushing towards that is somebody who is not in their
right mind,” Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Defence Minister and son of
King Salman, told the Economist magazine.
“Because a war between
Saudi Arabia and Iran is the beginning of a major catastrophe in the
region. For sure we will not allow any such thing.”
Human rights
organisations have accused the Saudi-led coalition of indiscriminate
bombing in Yemen. Almost 6000 people have been killed and schools and
hospitals targeted.
The diplomatic standoff between Iran and
Saudi Arabia began last weekend when the kingdom executed Sheikh Nimr
al-Nimr and 46 others convicted of terror charges – the largest mass
execution it has carried out since 1980.
Nimr was a staunch
critic of the Saudi Government and demanded greater rights for the
kingdom’s Shia population, but always denied advocating violence.
In
eastern Saudi Arabia, the home of Nimr and much of the kingdom’s
roughly 10 to 15 per cent Shia population, three days of mourning over
his death ended on Thursday.
The Shia there held a memorial
service – not a funeral, as the sheikh’s brother has said Saudi
authorities had already buried his body in an undisclosed cemetery.
There
are concerns new unrest could erupt. Nimr’s brother, as well as another
local resident of al-Awamiya in eastern Saudi Arabia, said they’d heard
gunfire on recent nights.
The local resident, who spoke to the
Associated Press on condition of anonymity out of fear for her safety,
shared a mobile phone video showing Saudi armoured personnel carriers
moving through local streets.
Meanwhile, more protests were
expected after Friday prayers, while mourners in Bahrain planned a
candlelight vigil for the sheikh.
More than 1040 people were
detained in Shia protests in eastern Saudi Arabia between February 2011
and August 2014, demonstrations inspired by the Arab Spring, according
to Human Rights Watch.
The watchdog and other groups have alleged
that Saudi officials discriminate against the Shia community by rarely
allowing them to build mosques and limiting their access to public
education, government employment and the justice system.

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