Khaled Abdullah / Reuters

Iran accuses Saudi Arabia of embassy airstrike in Yemen

Alleged strike comes amid deteriorating relations between the regional antagonists; a witness at the scene saw no damage

Authorities in Tehran on Thursday accused the Saudi-led coalition currently intervening against Houthi rebels in Yemen of hitting the Iranian Embassy in Sanaa in an overnight airstrike. 

The reported incident in Yemen's capital comes amid rising tensions between Tehran and Riyadh. On Sunday, Saudi Arabia broke off diplomatic relations with Iran after attacks on Saudi diplomatic posts in Iran, which followed Riyadh’s execution on Saturday of a prominent Shia cleric.

Iran's foreign ministry said Thursday that Saudi jets “deliberately” struck its embassy in an air raid that injured staff. “This deliberate action by Saudi Arabia is a violation of all international conventions that protect diplomatic missions,” foreign ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari was quoted as saying by state television.

However, an Associated Press reporter who reached the site just after the announcement saw no visible damage at the building.

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen will investigate Iran's accusation, said coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, according to Reuters. A coalition led by Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Muslim allies has been fighting the Shia Houthi movement, which controls the capital. 

An Iranian official told Agence France-Presse that Tehran would protest the purported Saudi bombing to the U.N. Security Council. 

While Riyadh sees the Houthis as a proxy for Iran  Saudi Arabia's bitter regional rival — to expand its influence, the Houthis deny this and say they are fighting a revolution against a corrupt government and Gulf Arab powers beholden to the West.

Almost 6,000 people have died in the conflict, nearly half of them civilians. United Nations-backed peace talks have yet to produce any substantial progress.

The ongoing diplomatic standoff between Iran and Saudi Arabia began Saturday, 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.

Iranian protesters responded by attacking the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad. Late Sunday, Saudi Arabia announced it was severing relations with Iran because of the assaults. On Wednesday, Iranian diplomats in Saudi Arabia returned to Tehran, according to state media.

Since Saudi Arabia severed ties to Iran, a host of its allies — including the United Arab Emirates and Qatar — have cut or reduced their ties as well.

Saudi Arabian Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also defended the kingdom's execution of Nimr in an interview with The Economist magazine, published online Thursday night.

Asked about the possibility of war, Prince Mohammed said: “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. 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.”

Meanwhile Thursday, Iran banned the import of goods from Saudi Arabia over the tensions, according to a report by Iranian state television. It said the decision came during an emergency meeting of the cabinet of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

In eastern Saudi Arabia, where Nimr agitated for greater political rights for Shias in the Sunni-ruled kingdom, three days of mourning over his death were to end Wednesday night. Mohammed al-Nimr, the sheikh's brother, said people planned to hold a funeral Thursday for the cleric, though Saudi authorities already buried his corpse in an undisclosed cemetery.

In other developments, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir arrived in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, for meetings with Pakistani leaders. Pakistan, which is a predominantly Sunni Muslim state but has a large Shiite minority, has expressed hope that Saudi Arabia and Iran will be able to normalize their relations.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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