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Yemen's Iran hospital closed for backing rebels

Allegations claim staff had been aiding Shiite rebels

The Iranian Hospital in the Yemeni capital Sanaa was sealed off by security forces on Tuesday amid allegations staff have been aiding Shiite rebels fighting the army in the north, an AFP reporter said.

Security forces surrounded the Iran-funded hospital and prevented patients from entering the five-storey building, which employs 120 people including eight Iranians, the reporter said.

Hospital staff are suspected of involvement in intelligence gathering for Shiite Iran and of helping channel funds to the Zaidi rebels, said a government official who asked not to be named.

The Yemeni authorities accuse "certain parties in Iran" of supporting the rebels, a charge Tehran denies while expressing sympathy for the rebels' cause.

Officials at the Ministry of Waqf (religious endowments), which owns the building, said that the hospital is to be closed down due to a delay in the payment of an accumulated rent of 28 million dollars.

The hospital offered patients services at prices that are usually lower than public and private institutions.

The rebels, also known as Huthis, have been clashing with government forces on and off in the rugged northern mountains of the Saada province and surrounding areas since 2004.

They complain of being marginalized and oppressed by the government, which accuses them of seeking to reinstate a form of clerical rule that ended in a republican coup in 1962.

Conflicting advice

Meanwhile, Yemeni authorities said on Tuesday safe corridors had been set up to allow refugees access to four camps offering a safe haven from fighting in the north but U.N. aid agency UNHCR said one of them was not safe.

Aid agencies are warning of a humanitarian crisis in the north, where up to 150,000 people have fled their homes since Shiite tribesmen launched an insurgency in 2004. The conflict has intensified since the army unleashed "Operation Scorched Earth" on Aug. 11.

A statement on state news agency Saba said the Supreme Security Committee called on displaced persons to head for four camps in Saada and Amran provinces using "safe corridors."

But the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR in Geneva said it had asked the Yemeni government not to move any more people to one of them, Khaiwan, because of shooting incidents nearby.

"We don't want to see any new internally displaced persons (IDPs) being brought in and potentially harmed," spokesman Andrej Mahecic told a news briefing.

"At the same time, UNHCR appeals to the government to allow the UN to start the distribution of aid to IDPs outside the camp," he said.

This week the UNHCR managed for the first time to bring in an aid convoy from Saudi Arabia, which borders the conflict zone and fears the war could spread northwards or allow al Qaeda a new foothold in Yemen. Riyadh has stopped refugees crossing the border to seek shelter.

The UNHCR hopes to send a second convoy "very soon" to the Alb camp -- of the four mentioned by the government -- where over 3,000 people are gathered, Mahecic said.

Aid agencies have not been allowed access to most of those uprooted by the conflict. Media have also been kept away, making it hard to verify conflicting claims from each side.

"The humanitarian situation is getting worse by the day," Aboudou Karimou Adjibade, UNICEF representative in Yemen, said in a statement.

The rebels, Zaidi Shiite Muslims, complain of political, economic and religious discrimination. The governments says they want to set up a religious state that fell in 1962.

We don't want to see any new internally displaced persons (IDPs) being brought in and potentially harmed

Spokesman Andrej Mahecic