Saudi-led coalition says killed 8 Hezbollah fighters in Yemen

A Saudi F-15 fighter jet lands at the Khamis Mushayt military airbase, some 880 km from the capital Riyadh, as the Saudi army conducts operations over Yemen (AFP Photo/FAYEZ NURELDINE) (AFP/File)

Riyadh (AFP) - The Saudi-led coalition battling rebels in Yemen on Monday said its forces killed eight members of Lebanon's Shiite militant group Hezbollah in an air strike in northern Yemen, near the Saudi border.

"The coalition killed 41 terrorist elements in Maran and destroyed their vehicles and equipment. Among the dead were eight members of Lebanese Hezbollah, including a commander," coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Maliki said in a statement, without offering details on how the fighters were killed.

Maran is in Saada province, a stronghold of Yemen's Shiite Huthi rebels who are backed by Iran.

It was the first official announcement by the coalition of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters being killed in Yemen although Maliki told AFP it was "not the first time".

Hezbollah did not immediately respond to AFP's request for comment on the claim.

The coalition has frequently accused Iran of providing weapons to the Huthis, namely ballistic missiles that have targeted the kingdom with increasing frequency.

Iran, also a backer of Hezbollah, has repeatedly denied arming the Huthis.

At press conference in Riyadh, Maliki said the Hezbollah fighters were part of a group heading to the Saudi border when they were spotted by their surveillance network.

"Terrorist members... from Hezbollah and from the Iranian regime are coming to help the rebels launch ballistic missiles and train them in combat," he said.

"Both Iran and... Hezbollah must stop sending military experts to Yemen."

In a November interview with CNN, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir accused Hezbollah of firing a missile provided by Iran at the kingdom from Yemeni territory. Hezbollah denied that claim.

Monday's announcement comes as Yemeni pro-government forces are locked in heavy battles with Huthi rebels as they press an offensive backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to retake the key aid hub of Hodeida.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths, who held talks in the rebel-held capital Sanaa last week to avoid military confrontation in Hodeida, is set to visit the southern port city of Aden on Wednesday for talks with Yemen's Saudi-backed President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.