Yemen government denies cutting ties with Iran

Yemen's internationally recognized government withdrew media statements by its Foreign Ministry officials saying it cut ties with Iran, a government spokesman said Friday.

"Cutting ties with Iran does not align with Yemen's supreme interests," said Rageh Badie.

The internationally recognized government has long been accusing Iran of arming and training the country's Shiite rebels known as Houthis. Tehran admits to supporting and advising the rebels, but denies any military aid.

Several government officials blamed the diplomatic mix-up on Foreign Minister Riyad Yasin, with multiple officials telling The Associated Press that Yasin lacks political experience.

Yemen has been torn by a ferocious war between government forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis allied with army units loyal to a former president. The U.N. says at least 2,355 civilians have been killed in fighting in Yemen since March, when the Saudi-led coalition began launching airstrikes.

Earlier in the day, pro- government forces captured a key Houthi encampment near the Bab al-Mandab straight, the strategic southern entrance to the Red Sea and the gateway to the Suez Canal, security officials said.

Friday's fighting in the strategic area has killed 46 fighters and wounded dozens so far from both sides of the conflict, added the officials — who remain neutral in the war that divided the country.

The aim, pro-government officials said, is to open a new front lin in the battle for Yemen's third largest city of Taiz, northeast of the straight. The battered city of Taiz, which lies in a province of the same name largely controlled by the Houthis, has long been the site of civilian casualties as Saudi airstrikes as well as rebel mortar shells often hit homes.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief the media.

Also Friday, a senior operative in Yemen's al-Qaida affiliate condemned the recent bombings of local Shiite mosques by the Islamic State group.

Both al-Qaida and the Islamic State group regard Shiite Muslims as apostates. But in a video released early Friday, Khaled Batarfi said that al-Qaida leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri had both banned the practice of attacking mosques.

The IS group has claimed responsibility for two bombings outside Shiite mosques that killed more than 20 people, saying the attacks were a blow against the Shiite rebels who control the capital, Sanaa. Batarfi said the bombings, "killed far more Sunnis than Shiites."