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Iran 'arming Houthis via Oman smuggling routes': Diplomats

Iranian diplomat sees 'sharp surge' in support for Yemen's Shia rebels, as Muscat is accused of turning 'blind eye' to the flow of arms
Houthi women fighters with rocket-propelled grenades and rocket-launchers during an anti-Saudi rally Yemen's capital, Sanaa (AFP)

Iran is stepping up weapons transfers to Houthi rebels in Yemen via smuggling routes through Oman, despite the current ceasefire in the country's civil war, the Reuters news agency reported on Thursday citing diplomatic sources.

A senior US official told Reuters that Washington had conveyed its concerns to Oman about the suspected flow of weapons into neighbouring Yemen.

Another Western diplomat said there had been a "recent increased frequency of weapons shipments supplied by Iran, which are reaching the Houthis via the Omani border".

"What they're bringing in via Oman are anti-ship missiles, explosives... money and personnel," another US official said.

Oman has denied that its territory is being used as a smuggling route by the Houthi movement, which pushed Yemen's President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi out of the capital Sanaa in March 2015.

Omani Foreign Minister Yousef bin Alwi last week declared there was "no truth" in the claim. However, Yemeni and senior regional officials told Reuters that the Omanis were turning a blind eye and failing to aggressively crack down on the flow arms.

Both Saudi Arabia and the US have accused Iran of supplying weapons to the Houthis, but Tehran has denied the claim.

However, Reuters quoted a senior Iranian diplomat who said there had been a "sharp surge in Iran's help to the Houthis in Yemen" since May, referring to weapons, training and money.

Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition of Arab states battling the Houthi supporters and forces loyal to the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, since President Hadi was forced to abandon the capital, Sanaa, and flee south.

The US has recently launched retaliatory strikes against Houthi targets following a missle attack on a US warship in the Red Sea.

Crumbling ceasefire

Sporadic fighting was reported on Thursday, hours after a UN-backed three-day ceasefire plan came into effect. Both sides have said they will respect the ceasefire providing the other side also does so.

The Saudi-led coalition accused the Houthis of repeatedly breaching the truce.

At least 11 people were killed in isolated clashes between Houthi militants and pro-government forces, despite all sides insisting they will pause the fighting.

Major General Ahmed Assiri, the coalition spokesman, told AFP, "there is no ceasefire at all" because of repeated rebel breaches. 

"This is the same situation as the previous time when we called for a ceasefire," Assiri said.

Official Saudi media said there were more than 43 rebel violations along the border.

Houthis said a coalition air strike killed three people in the northern Saada province on Thursday.

It is the sixth attempt to end the bloodshed since Saudi Arabia and its allies entered the conflict. The last ceasefire attempt began in April and later collapsed alongside UN-brokered peace talks in Kuwait.

Funeral attack

The truce came after a Saudi-led airstrike killed more than 140 people at a funeral in Sanaa. 

The Saudi-led military campaign violated international humanitarian law with a so-called "double tap" air strike on the funeral gathering on 8 October, the United Nations sanctions monitors told the Security Council.

The U.N. monitors said there were two air strikes in quick succession on the funeral, which was attended by many top political and security figures from the Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former President Saleh.

In an 17 October report, seen by Reuters, the monitors said they found "in respect of the second air strike, that the Saudi Arabia-led coalition violated its obligations in respect of hors de combat and the wounded in this 'double tap' attack."

Under international humanitarian law, attacks are prohibited against hors de combat - fighters incapable of defending themselves - the wounded, and medical personnel and units.

Almost 6,900 people have been killed in the conflict so far, more than half of them civilians. Another three million people have been displaced and millions more are in need of food aid.