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Iran Claims Saudi-Led Coalition Hit Its Embassy In Yemen

Shiite rebels hold posters of late Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr at a protest Thursday in Sanaa, Yemen. The cleric's execution by Saudi Arabia on Saturday sparked a dramatic deterioration in relations between Saudi and Iran. Hani Mohammed/AP hide caption

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Hani Mohammed/AP

Shiite rebels hold posters of late Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr at a protest Thursday in Sanaa, Yemen. The cleric's execution by Saudi Arabia on Saturday sparked a dramatic deterioration in relations between Saudi and Iran.

Hani Mohammed/AP

Iran is claiming that a Saudi-led coalition airstrike hit its embassy in Yemen's rebel-held capital. But witnesses say it's not clear that the embassy sustained damage or was even hit.

This is another sign of the dramatic deterioration in relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. After Saudi executed a prominent Shiite cleric last Saturday, Iranian protesters stormed Saudi's embassy in Tehran. That led Saudi to cut off relations with its longtime rival, sending shock waves through the region.

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari says the mission's guards were injured in the purported airstrike late Wednesday in Sanaa, Iranian news agency Fars reports. He did not specify how many.

Fars has more from Jaber Ansari:

" 'The Saudi government's conscious and deliberate measure violates all the international conventions and legal regulations for protecting the security and safety of diplomatic places in all situations and the Saudi government should account for this measure and compensate for the damages to the (embassy) building and injuries inflicted on a number of embassy staff,' Jaber Ansari said Thursday."

However, "an Associated Press reporter who reached the site just after the announcement saw no visible damage to the building," the wire service says.

Other reporters at the scene also reported no damage.

The Shiite Houthi rebels so far have made no mention of the purported bombing on their news website or on the state news wire that they control.

Saudi Arabia is allied with Yemen's embattled president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, and has been launching airstrikes against the Houthis since March 2015. Those rebels seized control of the capital in September 2014, and hold other large swathes of territory in Yemen. "Iran has offered support to the Houthis, but denies actively supporting their war effort," The Associated Press reported.

But it's not just two sides fighting each other — tribes, southern separatists, a powerful al-Qaida affiliate and a burgeoning Islamic State branch all have their own competing interests in Yemen.

The ongoing ground fighting and airstrikes have taken a huge toll on Yemeni civilians. The U.N. said Tuesday that 2,795 civilians have been killed and 5,324 have been wounded since the Saudi-led campaign of airstrikes began last March. These figures don't include fighters. And as Lisa Schlein reported for our Newscast unit, the U.N. says "coalition bombings are responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths."

Rights groups have accused the Saudi-led coalition of dropping cluster bombs on multiple provinces during the course of its campaign. Now, Human Rights Watch says it has documented for the first time the use of cluster munitions in the rebel-held capital. Here's more from NPR's Leila Fadel:

"The report describes three separate attacks on Wednesday in which U.S.-made cluster bombs from the 1970s were apparently airdropped in residential neighborhoods. The organization says the use of cluster bombs in the middle of crowded areas 'suggests an intent to harm civilians.'

These are submunitions that broke apart Wednesday in the Hayal Sayeed neighborhood of Sanaa in Yemen, Human Rights Watch says. Krar al-Moayed/Courtesy of Human Rights Watch hide caption

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Krar al-Moayed/Courtesy of Human Rights Watch

These are submunitions that broke apart Wednesday in the Hayal Sayeed neighborhood of Sanaa in Yemen, Human Rights Watch says.

Krar al-Moayed/Courtesy of Human Rights Watch

"It said the U.S. is obligated to investigate the repeated and illegal use of cluster bombs because it is playing a role in the conflict by 'coordinating military operations.' It also said the U.S. should stop selling aerial munitions to Saudi Arabia without an investigation into alleged war crimes in Yemen."

Cluster munitions are indiscriminate by definition — they spread small bombs haphazardly over a large area and can harm civilians even years later.

Here's how Human Rights Watch says one resident described the aerial attack:

"A resident of al-Zira`a Street told Human Rights Watch that his family was awakened at 5:30 a.m. on January 6 by dozens of small explosions. He said that he had been at work, but that his wife told him that when the family fled they saw many homes and a local kindergarten with newly pockmarked walls and broken windows."