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Manama (AFP) – The US Navy confiscated 1,400 AK-47 rifles and ammunition from a fishing boat allegedly smuggling weapons from Iran to Houthi rebels in war-torn Yemen.
U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) said it boarded the boat in the North Arabian Sea on December 20, confiscated the weapons cache and five crew members – who identified themselves as Yemenis – before sinking the ship.
Yemen has been ravaged by a civil war since 2014, in which the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels take on the internationally recognized government.
“Ships of the US 5th Fleet seized approximately 1,400 AK-47 assault rifles and 226,600 rounds of ammunition from a stateless fishing vessel,” said a statement by the US Navy on Wednesday.
“The stateless ship is believed to have originated in Iran and crossed international waters along a route that was used in the past for the illegal arms trade to the Houthis in Yemen.”
The Bahrain-based 5th Fleet seized approximately 8,700 illegal weapons this year.
The United States, as well as allied Saudi Arabia, which leads the military coalition that supports the Yemeni government against the rebels, has long accused Iran of supplying arms to the Houthis, an allegation Tehran denies.
“The direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of weapons to the Houthis violates UN Security Council resolutions and US sanctions,” the US statement said.
The five crew members will be repatriated, the Navy said, adding that the boat was sunk because it posed a “hazard” to commercial shipping.
Riyadh has stated that its 2015 intervention in Yemen was aimed at preventing an Iranian ally from taking power on its doorstep.
In recent days, coalition forces from Saudi Arabia have launched air strikes on the rebel-held capital Sanaa while fighting in Yemen.
On Wednesday, the coalition said it had targeted a Houthi military camp in Sanaa and destroyed seven drone and weapons depots, the official Saudi press agency said.
At the beginning of this week, with exceptions for aid flights, it targeted Sanaa Airport, whose operations have largely been suspended since August 2016 due to a blockade led by Saudi Arabia.
The UN estimates that the war in Yemen claimed 377,000 lives by the end of the year, both direct and indirect.
More than 80 percent of the population of around 30 million people need humanitarian aid.
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