ADEN - Iran's leader on Thursday condemned the military intervention by its main regional rival Saudi Arabia in Yemen as genocide, sharply escalating Tehran's rhetoric against the two-week-old campaign of air strikes.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Saudi Arabia would not emerge victorious from the war in Yemen, where Iran-allied Houthi fighters who control the capital Sanaa have been trying to seize the southern city of Aden from local militias.
Iran has repeatedly urged a halt in the air strikes and called for dialogue in Yemen, but Khamenei's comments are the most critical yet from Tehran about the offensive by Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies.
"The aggression by Saudi Arabia against Yemen and its innocent people was a mistake... It has set a bad precedent in the region," Khamenei said in a televised speech.
"This is a crime and genocide that can be prosecuted in international courts," he added. "Riyadh will not emerge victorious in its aggression."
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also criticised the coalition assembled by Riyadh, saying it was repeating errors committed in other parts of the Arab world where Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran back rival sides.
"You tried it in Lebanon, and realised your mistake. You tried it in Syria, and realised your mistake. You realised your mistake in Iraq. You will realise soon that you also made a mistake in Yemen," he said.
They were speaking a day after Iran said it was sending two warships to sea off Yemen and a military spokesman for the Saud-led coalition repeated Riyadh's accusations - denied by Iran - that it has trained and equipped the Shi'ite Houthi forces.
Two weeks of relentless air strikes in Yemen have not stopped the Houthis, backed by soldiers loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, from advancing into central Aden.
Saudi Arabia says the military campaign aims at curbing the Houthi advances and restoring President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who fled Aden two weeks ago, so UN-brokered political negotiations can resume.
The fighting has killed more than 600 people and displaced more than 100,000, according to the United Nations. Aid workers have warned of a looming humanitarian catastrophe.
Houthi fighters and troops loyal to Saleh entered the provincial capital of the mainly Sunni Muslim Shabwa province in eastern Yemen on Thursday, residents said.
Local tribal chiefs and security officials facilitated the entry of the Houthi forces to Ataq, where they took control of local government buildings and security forces compounds, according to residents.