UN experts: weapons reaching Yemen's Houthi rebels resemble Iran's

Report says rebels are using new types of drones and missiles in attacks

TOPSHOT - A picture taken on September 18, 2019 shows displayed fragments of what the Saudi defence ministry spokesman said were Iranian cruise missiles and drones recovered from the attack site that targeted Saudi Aramco's facilities, during a press conference in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia said that strikes on its oil infrastructure came from the "north" and were sponsored by Iran, but that the kingdom was still investigating the exact launch site. / AFP / Fayez Nureldine
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Yemen’s Houthi rebels are receiving parts for drones and weapons, some with technical characteristics similar to arms manufactured in Iran, in potential violation of an arms embargo, UN experts say.

The experts said in a report to the Security Council that the main smuggling route for both the commercially available drone parts and weapons “seems to run overland from Oman and the southern coast of Yemen, through territory controlled by the government of Yemen, towards Sanaa”, the country’s capital, which is controlled by the Houthis.

The panel's report, which obtained by The Associated Press on Friday, said the seizure on November 25 of a dhow in the Arabian Sea carrying anti-tank missiles indicated that sea transport also “continues to play a role” in the arms shipments.

The Yemen conflict began with the 2014 takeover of Sanaa by the Houthis, who control much of the country's north. A Saudi-led military coalition allied with Yemen's internationally recognised government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.

The conflict has killed thousands of civilians and created the world's worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushing the country to the brink of famine last year. The UN has warned of a possible famine this year.

“Throughout 2019, the Houthis and the government of Yemen made little headway towards either a political settlement or a conclusive military victory,” the experts said.

“In a continuation from 2018, the belligerents continued to practise economic warfare: using economic obstruction and financial tools as weapons to starve opponents of funds or materials,” the panel said, adding that “profiteering from the conflict is endemic”.

In the Houthi-controlled north, the experts said, the rebels continued to consolidate their political and military control, using their “pervasive intelligence services” and brutally suppressing tribal opposition and political dissent.

The panel said it identified a network targeting women who oppose the Houthis, including through the use of sexual violence. In 11 cases, the experts said they documented the arrest, detention, beating, torture and sexual abuse of women “because of their political affiliations or participation in political activities or public protests”.

“These women were threatened with charges of prostitution or organised crime if they persisted in activities against the Houthis,” the panel said.

During most of 2019, the panel said, the Houthis continued and intensified aerial attacks on Saudi Arabia using two new weapon systems – a new type of Delta-design drone and a new land attack cruise missile model.

The experts said they investigated the September 14 attack on Saudi Aramco oil facilities in Khurays and Abqaiq, where the kingdom’s crucial oil processing plant is. The drone and missile attacks cut into global energy supplies and halved Saudi oil production.

The Houthis claimed responsibility for the attacks. But the panel said it found that “despite claims to the contrary, the Houthi forces are unlikely to be responsible for the attack, as the estimated range of the weapon systems used does not allow for a launch from Houthi-controlled territory”.

Nonetheless, the experts said a number of other attacks using the same drones and land-based cruise missiles could be attributed to the Houthis.

The United States has alleged that Iran was responsible for the Aramco attacks. Tehran called the US claims “maximum lies”.

The panel said it did not believe the comparatively sophisticated weapons used in those attacks “were developed and manufactured in Yemen, implying that they were imported in violation of the targeted arms embargo”.