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Iran warns Saudis could "spark a fire" over alleged aid ship

Loyalists of exiled Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi gather next to tanks on a road on the outskirts of the southern city of Aden, on April 30, 2015.

SALEH AL-OBEIDI/AFP/Getty Images

TEHRAN, Iran - A senior Iranian military official has warned the Saudi-led coalition targeting Yemeni rebels that blocking an Iranian aid ship bound for Yemen will "spark a fire," as a five-day humanitarian cease-fire appeared to hold early Wednesday after going into effect the day before.

"I bluntly declare that the self-restraint of Islamic Republic of Iran is not limitless," Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, the deputy chief of staff, told Iran's Arabic-language Al-Alam state TV late Tuesday.

"Both Saudi Arabia and its novice rulers, as well as the Americans and others, should be mindful that if they cause trouble for the Islamic Republic with regard to sending humanitarian aid to regional countries, it will spark a fire, the putting out of which would definitely be out of their hands."

Iran says the ship, which departed Monday, is carrying food, medicine, tents and blankets, as well as reporters, rescue workers and peace activists. It says the ship is expected to arrive at Yemen's port city of Hodeida next week.

Iran's navy said Tuesday it will protect the ship, and on Wednesday Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said Iran would not permit any country involved in the Yemen war to inspect its cargo.

Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri, a military spokesman, said Tuesday that no ship would be permitted to reach Yemen unless there was prior coordination with the coalition, and that if Iran wants to deliver humanitarian aid it should do so through the United Nations.

In Washington, U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren said the American military is monitoring the cargo ship and warned Iran against "planning some sort of stunt." He said the Iranian naval escort is unnecessary and that Iran should send the ship to Djibouti, where humanitarian efforts for Yemen are being coordinated.

There are some six U.S. warships already in the region around Yemen, including in the Gulf of Aden.

The U.S., which supports the coalition, and Saudi Arabia have accused Iran of arming the Yemeni rebels, known as Houthis. Iran supports the rebels, but both Tehran and the Houthis deny it has provided weapons to them.

A five-day humanitarian cease-fire began Tuesday night, just hours after Saudi-led warplanes targeted the Shiite rebels and their allies.

There were reports of continued ground fighting in some areas, with security officials and witnesses saying fierce combat broke out about a half-hour after the cease-fire began when rebels tried to storm the southern city of Dhale, firing tank shells, rockets and mortars. But no airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition were reported.

The conflict has killed more than 1,400 people - many of them civilians - since March 19, according to the U.N. The country of some 25 million people has endured shortages of food, water, medicine and electricity as a result of a Saudi-led naval, air and land blockade.