TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's navy said Tuesday it will protect an aid ship traveling to Yemen where a five-day humanitarian cease-fire is set to begin between a Saudi-led coalition and Shiite rebels and their allies. The U.S. quickly warned against the move, which comes amid heightened tensions after the Islamic Republic seized a cargo ship in recent weeks.
The state-run IRNA news agency quoted Iranian Admiral Hossein Azad as saying that the 34th naval group "is present in the Gulf of Aden and Bab al-Mandab strait and has been given the specific mission of protecting the humanitarian aid ship." That naval group includes the destroyer Alborz and logistic ship Bushehr, which are on a 90-day anti-piracy assignment in the region.
Iranian state television reported Tuesday that the ship, the Iran Shahed, carried food, medicine, tents and blankets, as well as reporters, rescue workers and peace activists. It said the ship is expected to arrive at Yemen's port city of Hodeida next week.
In Washington, U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren said the U.S. is monitoring the cargo ship and he warned that it would not be helpful if Iran is "planning some sort of stunt." He said using Iranian warships to accompany the ship is not necessary and Iran should just send the cargo vessel to Djibouti, where humanitarian efforts for Yemen are being coordinated.
There some six U.S. warships already in the region around Yemen, including in the Gulf of Aden.
The U.S. and other Western countries have accused Iran of militarily backing the Yemeni rebels, known as Houthis. Both the rebels and the Islamic Republic deny that.
Tuesday's announcement comes after Iran seized a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship April 28 as it traversed the Strait of Hormuz, saying it was over a court dispute. The ship later was released, but sparked renewed tension between Iran and the U.S. over the strait, the route for about a fifth of the world's oil.
Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.