Iran's ambassador with Houthi rebels has left Yemen amid controversy whether he was sent back by his hosts or he contracted coronavirus and needed treatment.
Iranian and Houthi official have denied a Wall Street Journal report about Houthis sending the ambassador back due to disputes with Tehran.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a tweet Saturday that the Iranian envoy to Sanaa, Hassan Irloo (Irlu), was brought back home for Covid treatment "with the assistance of some regional countries" and thanked "the countries that contributed to this humanitarian measure."
Muhammad Abdul Salam, the Houthi group's chief negotiator and spokesman, said in tweet Saturday also said that the Iranian ambassador was repatriated due to his health circumstances. "The accounts and speculations reported in the media are untrue," he wrote. Abdul Salam said an "Iranian-Saudi understanding mediated by Baghdad" resulted in Irloo's repatriation on an Iraqi plane.
Abdul Malik al-Ajri, another Houthi official, also said in a tweet that the Iranian ambassador's repatriation was "purely for health reasons" and had nothing to do with "disputes with our Iranian friends as foreign media claimed."
A high-ranking Saudi official told AFP Saturday that the Iranian ambassador had left on an Iraqi plane and was probably in Baghdad. He said following mediation by Iraq and Oman, the Saudi authorities permitted the flight at the request of the Houthis.
Iraq had to get involved in the repatriation of the Iranian ambassador as Saudi Arabia would not allow Iran to fly a plane to the Yemeni capital Sanaa which is controlled by the Houthis.
"The Houthi forces have asked Saudi Arabia, which maintains a sweeping air blockade of Yemen’s capital, to let the top Iranian diplomat in the country immediately fly back to Iran, a request seen by Saudi officials as a sign of strains between Tehran and the militant group," the Wall Street Journal said in a report Saturday.
The Wall Street Journal quoted an unnamed regional official as saying that Irloo had become "a burden" and a "political problem" for the Houthis.Irloo has been deeply involved in helping the Houthis with battlefield planning, but his influence in Yemen has bolstered a negative perception in the country that the militant force answers to Tehran, according to regional officials, the newspaper wrote.
Iran said in October that its new ambassador, Hassan Irloo, had arrived in Sanaa and would present his credentials to the Houthi government. Iran's previous ambassador left Sanaa in 2015.
The manner of Irloo's arrival in Sanaa despite the Saudi blockade was not disclosed. Irloo is a member of Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) with close ties to Lebanese Hezbollah. He was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department in December 2020 due to his connections with the IRGC's Qods Force.
Houthis had dispatched Ibrahim al-Dulaimi, a former director general of the Houthi Al Masirah TV, To Tehran in 2019. The internationally recognized Yemeni government condemned the appointment as a breach of “international laws and said it contravened UN Security Council resolutions related to the Yemen crisis.
Iran is the only country that has diplomatic relations with the rebel Houthi government which controls Sanaa and much of the north of Yemen.
The Saudi-led coalition which supports Yemen's internationally recognized government and has fought alongside it since 2015 has repeatedly accused Iran of arming the Houthi rebels. Tehran has always denied Iran's involvement in Yemen or providing weapons including missiles to the Houthis.