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Iran Accuses Saudi of Bombing Yemen Embassy

January 7, 2016 (Photo Credit: Mohhamed Huwais/AFP)

TEHRAN — Iran said Thursday it would protest to the UN Security Council after claiming Saudi warplanes bombed its embassy in Yemen, in a new escalation of tensions that have reverberated across the region.

The Saudi-led coalition combating Iran-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen denied the accusation, saying no operations were carried out near the mission.

Shiite-dominated Iran also announced a ban on imports from its Sunni-ruled rival.

That comes days after Saudi Arabia broke off diplomatic ties with Iran in response to an arson attack on its own embassy in Tehran by protesters infuriated by Riyadh's execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.

Tehran said an unspecified number of embassy staff had been wounded in the raid on the rebel-held Yemeni capital Sanaa, which has been targeted by months of coalition air strikes.

"This deliberate action by Saudi Arabia is a violation of all international conventions that protect diplomatic missions," foreign ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari said, quoted by state television.

"The Saudi government is responsible for the damage caused and for the situation of members of staff who were injured," Ansari added, without specifying when the alleged strike took place or the seriousness of the injuries.

"The Islamic republic reserves the right to pursue its interests in this matter," he said.

Later, Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said that "during an air raid by Saudi Arabia against Sanaa, a rocket fell near our embassy and unfortunately one of our guards was seriously wounded".

"We will inform the Security Council of the details of this attack within several hours," he said, adding that "Saudi Arabia is responsible for the security of our diplomats and of our embassy in Sanaa".

But the coalition said an investigation showed that the "allegations are false".

It added: "No operations were carried out around the embassy or near to it ... The embassy building is safe and has not been damaged."

Iran also announced that a ban on Iranians traveling to the Saudi holy city of Mecca for the year-round minor pilgrimage, known as the umrah, would remain in place indefinitely.

Somalia Cuts Ties

Longstanding frictions between the Middle East's foremost Sunni and Shiite Muslim powers exploded into a full-blown diplomatic crisis at the weekend when Riyadh executed Shiite cleric and activist Nimr al-Nimr.

Nimr's death unleashed a wave of anger across the Shiite world, and protesters in Iran stormed and set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran and consulate in second city of Mashhad.

Iran denounced those attacks, but the repercussions quickly rippled across the region with Saudi allies Bahrain, Sudan and Djibouti also cutting diplomatic ties with Tehran.

Somalia followed suit Thursday, saying it had given Iranian diplomats 72 hours to leave.

"This step has been taken after careful consideration and in response to the Republic of Iran's continuous interference in Somalia's internal affairs," a statement said, without elaborating.

Among other Saudi allies, the United Arab Emirates has downgraded relations with Iran, while Kuwait and Qatar have recalled their ambassadors.

Iran's embargo on imports from Saudi Arabia will reportedly affect goods worth about $40 million (€36.7 million).

The Yemeni conflict, which pits the rebels known as Huthis against pro-government forces backed by Riyadh and other Gulf Arab states, is one of the main sources of dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Diplomatic fallout

The two countries also support opposing sides in Syria. Tehran is providing military assistance to close ally President Bashar al-Assad against rebel groups, some backed by Saudi Arabia.

The growing tensions have heaped doubt on a UN-backed plan that foresees talks between the Syrian sides this month in a bid to end a war that has claimed more than a quarter of a million lives.

The roadmap, adopted by the UN Security Council, calls for creation of a transitional government within six months and elections within 18 months.

The latest crisis also threatens a fragile UN-backed initiative to end the war in Yemen, where the world body says at least 2,795 civilians have been killed since March.

UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has called for a new round of talks on Jan. 14 but the sides have yet to confirm that they will attend.

At the same time the row has dealt another blow to the unity of the OPEC oil cartel, which includes both Iran and Saudi Arabia, at a time when a glut of crude on world markets has sent prices plunging.

The growing Middle East tensions have further reduced expectations of any action by OPEC to try to shore up oil prices.

With fears of weaker Chinese demand also mounting, New York's main crude contract slid to a 12-year low of $32.10 a barrel Thursday.

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