AL-MUKALLA: The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) office in Yemen, Katharina Ritz, has been criticized for meeting Iran's representative in Houthi-controlled Sanaa.
Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak said Monday that the government had protested the meeting as Hasan Irlu was a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and had snuck into the country illegally last year.
“He (Irlu) is not an ambassador to Yemen,” the minister told Arab News. “He has not been accredited and entered Yemen illegally. She is accredited in Yemen and is not entitled to meet with a member of the Revolutionary Guard to discuss matters related to Yemen.”
The official Saba news agency reported that the ministry sent a “strongly worded” protest note to the ICRC about the meeting between Ritz and Irlu.
“The ministry is awaiting clarifications from the International Committee of the Red Cross about the circumstances of the mistake made by the Red Cross office (in Sanaa), and the ministry will take sovereign measures in accordance with Yemeni law,” Saba quoted an anonymous ministerial source as saying.
The government has accused Irlu of masterminding military operations against its forces and facilitating the arrival of arms shipments from Iran to the Houthis.
In December, the US blacklisted Irlu for spearheading IRGC activities that fueled instability in Yemen.
The ICRC said Ritz met Irlu in her capacity as a representative of an independent humanitarian organization that talked to all parties and countries involved in the Yemen crisis and conflict.
“Humanitarian diplomacy is an integral part of ICRC activities to assist the people affected by the protracted conflict across the country,” the organization said in an email to Arab News. “The ICRC has been working in Yemen since 1962 and it enjoys good acceptance and respect by all the Yemeni successive governments and all parties to the conflict.”
Yemeni officials and activists went on social media to say that the organization should apologize to the Yemeni public for meeting a “terrorist” figure who sponsored the launch of attacks on civilians in the country and Saudi Arabia.
Yemen's ambassador to Morocco, Ezudding Al-Asbahi, said that Irlu was responsible for guiding the Houthi missiles that targeted Aden airport last December and killed dozens of civilians, including several ICRC workers.
“What can the international organization say to the victims,” the ambassador tweeted.
The controversy came as Yemen’s army on Monday announced fresh territorial gains in the southern city of Taiz after clashes with Houthis, local commanders and official media said.
Troops pushed into Maqbanah district after freeing Jabal Habashy district, west of Taiz, as other forces liberated a number of locations on the eastern edges of the city, said Abdul Basit Al-Baher, a military official in Taiz.
“The army troops are pushing to completely seize control of Al-Bareh (so) as to meet government troops along with the country’s western coast,” Al-Baher told Arab News, attributing the Houthis’ setbacks in Taiz to severe attrition and sending their forces to Marib.
“The Houthi manpower has been greatly weakened over the last couple of months. This enabled the Yemeni army to advance in Taiz.”
Yemen’s defense minister said that Arab coalition warplanes had carried out dozens of air raids in the past 24 hours in the central province of Marib, targeting Houthi military equipment and locations in Al-Kasara, Helan and Serwah.
The strikes paved the way for the army and allied tribesmen to push back the attacks.
Last month the Houthis resumed a large-scale military offensive to seize control of oil-rich Marib city, which is the government’s last stronghold in the northern half of the country.
Local army commanders said that more than 1,000 Houthis, including many military leaders, had been killed since the start of the offensive.