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US navy seizes Iranian ship carrying AK-47s bound for Houthis

Seizure of 1,500 assault rifles comes as Houthi delegates reportedly go to Riyadh for talks ahead of a fresh peace drive
Supporters of the Shia Houthi militia attend a demonstration in Yemen's second largest city of Taiz (AFP)

US naval forces have seized a cache of arms, which they believe were heading from Iran to the Houthis in Yemen.

According to the navy, the Iranian ship was carrying 1,500 AK-47s, 200 RPG launchers and 21 0.50 calibre machine guns, the US Navy said in a statement.

The raid took place in the Arabian Sea in late March but was only made public on Monday. However, the navy said the seizure was only the latest in a growing line of confiscations with the US witnessing an uptick in illicit shipments that originated in Iran.

The extent of Iran’s support has always been contested. While the US sent ships to monitor the region last year, some analysts have asserted that the move was done more to placate the Saudis than out of a genuine concern that Iran would flood Yemen with arms.

The accusations have resurfaced periodically ever since and last September, the Saudi-led coalition that has been bombing Yemen since March 2015 caused a stir when it alleged that it had seized a boat carrying 14 Iranians as well as missile launchers, anti-tank shells and missiles, all bound for Yemen.

The Iranians denied the charges, calling them a fabrication and accusing Saudi of launching “psychological warfare”.  

The Houthis seized the capital Sanaa in September 2014 and then proceeded to push out the government in early 2015 before starting a long surge south.

They are allied with former president Ali Abduallah Saleh, who has continued to command loyalty amidst some of Yemen’s best trained troops and has been seen as crucial to the Houthi’s success to date.

Monday’s announcement about the raid comes as a Houthi delegation headed for talks in Riyadh ahead of a planned ceasefire and renewed Yemeni peace negotiations, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Monday.

"The Houthi delegation is in Saudi Arabia and the discussions are ongoing. I believe we have made good progress," Jubeir told reporters.

“We believe that we are closer than ever to a political solution in Yemen.”

A UN-brokered truce slated to enter into effect on 10 April and to be followed by talks in Kuwait on 18 April.

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