The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has rejected Iranian accusations that it delayed arrangements for the evacuation of Tehran’s envoy from Sanaa.
The coalition said on Wednesday it had helped get the sick ambassador out of the country before he died.
Iran said on Tuesday that Hasan Irloo (Irlu), its ambassador to Houthi-run north Yemen, had died of Covid-19 after his evacuation from Yemen, and accused Saudi Arabia of delaying his departure from the capital, Sanaa.
The coalition, which has been fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi movement since early 2015, said in a statement it had facilitated Irloo's repatriation and had arranged for an Iraqi medical plane to fly him from Sanaa to Basra in Iraq.
It said it began facilitating Irloo's transfer from Sanaa on humanitarian grounds, considering mediation from Oman and Iraq, within 48 hours of being informed of his health condition.
It had provided permits and logistical support for the Iraqi air force C-130 medical evacuation plane that took Irloo out, coalition spokesperson Turki al-Malki said.
Hassan Irloo (L) with a Houthi official in Sanaa on January 2, 2021
The coalition did not say in the statement what medical condition Irloo had been suffering from. He was buried in Iran on Wednesday.
Fars news agency affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard repeated Wednesday that Saudi Arabia’s “delay caused the martyrdom” of Irloo, quoting the Houthi foreign minister Hisham Sharaf.
In his funeral ceremony on Wednesday, deputy commander of the IRGC, Ali Fadavi, portrayed Irloo as a longtime “fighter in the resistance front”, a term the Islamic Republic uses to describe its allies and proxies in the region. He accused the United States and “its allies” of delaying Irloo’s evacuation, saying that when he was finally brought to Iran he had been suffering from Covid “for a long time”.
Last week controversy ensued after a Wall Street Journal report said that the Houthis had asked Iran to withdraw Irloo. Both Iran and the Houthi leadership denied the report, insisting that the ambassador suffered from Covid and needed to receive medical attention in Iran.
But speculations on Iranian social media continued that Irloo had been perhaps killed or injured in Yemen and both Tehran and Riyadh preferred to say he was evacuated for medical reasons. Saudi Arabia has been conducting a fierce air campaign on suspected military and Iran-related targets in and around Sanaa.
Saudi Arabia and Iran, the region's Sunni Muslim and Shi'ite powerhouses, are bitter rivals but they launched direct talks this year as global powers try to salvage a nuclear pact with Iran and as UN-led efforts to end the Yemen war have stalled.
The bilateral talks have not resulted in any breakthrough, Iran said on Sunday. The two countries severed diplomatic ties in January 2016, after mobs in Iran attacked and ransacked Saudi diplomatic missions.
Last December, the US Treasury blacklisted Irloo and described him as an official of Iran's elite Quds Force, the overseas arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guards and a pillar of Iranian efforts to project power in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere.
Two Yemeni political sources and a foreign source have said Irloo had recently kept a low profile due to illness and political tension.
With reporting by Reuters