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WAR REPORT
Pentagon chief warns of Yemen 'Hezbollah'
by Staff Writers
Riyadh (AFP) April 19, 2017


'Friendly fire' downed Saudi helicopter in Yemen: sources
Aden (AFP) April 19, 2017 - A Saudi military helicopter that crashed in Yemen killing 12 Saudi soldiers was likely hit by "friendly fire", military sources said Wednesday.

The soldiers, including four officers, died Tuesday when the helicopter went down in Yemen's Marib province, the Saudi-led Arab coalition fighting Iran-backed Huthi rebels said in a statement.

"As the Saudi helicopter was not identified by the ground operations centre, the air defence system was triggered automatically," a senior Yemeni military official said.

A source familiar with the details of the incident said the helicopter appeared to have been hit by friendly fire "from automated systems".

Such incidents can happen if pilots fail to communicate with systems on the ground, the source, who asked to remain anonymous, told AFP.

The Yemeni defence ministry's 26sepnews.net news website also reported on Tuesday that the helicopter had been hit by mistake.

It cited a senior Yemeni officer who said the aircraft was shot down five kilometres (around three miles) from its landing site after "a technical error that caused the air defence system to make an incorrect reading."

The website said the helicopter came down "a very long way" from rebel positions, beyond the range of their weaponry.

Coalition spokesman General Ahmed Assiri, contacted by AFP, did not confirm or deny the friendly fire reports, saying an investigation was under way and it was "too early to adopt any hypothesis".

The coalition began air strikes in Yemen in March 2015 in support of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's internationally recognised government in its fight against Iran-backed Huthi rebels.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which play key roles in the coalition, have suffered its heaviest losses, with dozens of soldiers killed.

In September 2015, a rebel missile strike on a coalition base in Marib killed 67 coalition soldiers, most of them Emiratis.

The United Nations says that more than 7,700 people have been killed since March 2015 in poverty-stricken Yemen, which also faces a serious risk of famine.

Seven ceasefires brokered between government and rebel forces by the United Nations have failed, while UN-backed peace talks have repeatedly broken down.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis warned Wednesday of Iranian efforts to create a Yemeni militia "in the image" of Lebanon's Hezbollah, after talks with officials in Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom leads an Arab coalition which for two years has been fighting in support of Yemen's government against rebels backed by Iran.

Saudi officials have accused Tehran and the Lebanese Shiite militant group, which Iran supports, of aiding the Huthi rebels.

Mattis told reporters of the need to overcome Iran's efforts "in destabilising yet another country and create another militia in the image" of Hezbollah.

Washington alleges that Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional rival, has shipped missiles to Yemen but Tehran denies the charge.

A United Nations panel in January reported that it "has not seen sufficient evidence to confirm any direct large-scale supply of arms" from Iran.

Analysts from the International Crisis Group also said there has been "very little hard evidence" of Iranian arms to the Huthis, who are allied with troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Pentagon officials believe members of the Quds Force, the foreign operations wing of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, are in Yemen to help the Huthis.

Hezbollah, a powerful political movement in Lebanon, is fighting alongside government forces in Syria and has been declared a "terrorist organisation" by Riyadh.

Washington provides intelligence as well as aerial refuelling to coalition warplanes conducting air strikes in Yemen with American-supplied weapons.

But after talks with Saudi Arabia's King Salman and Defence Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Mattis did not indicate if President Donald Trump's administration was considering an increase in that support.

Rights groups have repeatedly criticised the coalition bombing campaign in Yemen for causing civilian casualties.

"Our goal is to push this conflict into the UN brokered negotiations to ensure that it ends as soon as possible," Mattis told reporters on his first Middle East tour since taking office.

Seven ceasefires alongside UN-brokered peace efforts have so far failed to stop the fighting.

WAR REPORT
US-led coalition Syria strikes kill 20 civilians: monitor
Beirut (AFP) April 18, 2017
Air strikes by the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group killed 20 civilians in Syria's eastern Deir Ezzor province, a monitor said on Tuesday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the deaths came in two separate incidents on Monday. It also reported 10 civilians, among them nine children, were killed in a suspected Russian air strike on Tuesday on a town in the rebel ... read more

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