Zaidi rebels in Yemen have denied state allegations linking the Shia resistance force fighting in the north of the country to the government in Iran.
“We have absolutely no contact with the Iranians,” a spokesman for the fighters, Mohammad Abdessalam told AFP on Tuesday.
Speaking from the Persian Gulf city of Dubai, Abdessalam challenged the Yemeni government to provide credible proof on such allegations.
The conflict between government forces and the Shia fighters, known as the Houthis, started in 2004 when Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, head of the Zaidiyyah sect, launched an uprising against the central government.
Sana’a says the group is trying to overthrow the government and implement a Shia religious law. The Houthis, however, say they are “defending their community against discrimination” and government aggression.
The fighting has intensified since the Yemeni army in mid-August launched an operation targeting the fighters, killing scores and displacing 150,000 more people.
On September 17, more than 80 people were killed in an air raid on a camp for displaced people in northern Yemen despite a government-announced ceasefire.
Both sides have complained of outside influence. The government commonly accuses the fighters of Iranian ties and the Houthis charge the Sana’a government of being influenced, financed and armed by Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia, which is widely known for suppressing its own Shia minority population.