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Bahrain: Yemen rebels’ attack kills Bahraini officer, soldier on Saudi border

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A drone attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels killed a Bahraini officer and soldier who were patrolling Saudi Arabia’s southern border early Monday, Bahrain’s military command said.

The Houthis did not immediately acknowledge carrying out the attack as efforts to strike a peace deal between Riyadh and the rebels continue.

The military statement, carried by the state-run Bahrain News Agency, says “a number” of Bahraini soldiers were also wounded in the strike, without elaborating.

“This terrorist attack was carried out by the Houthis, who sent aircraft targeting the position of the Bahraini guards on the southern border of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia despite the halt of military operations between the warring sides in Yemen,” the statement said. It did not identify the site of the attack.

Bahrain later repatriated the bodies to the island kingdom, where they were met by an honor guard and top military officials.

The tiny island nation of Bahrain is a close ally of Saudi Arabia, which has led the war against the Houthis. The deadliest attack to strike Bahrain in the conflict so far had been a September 2015 missile strike by the Houthis in Marib that killed five of its troops, along with 52 Emirati and 10 Saudi troops.

A cease-fire had largely stopped the violence, and the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis have appeared close to a peace agreement in recent months.

It was unclear if the attack would derail those efforts by Saudi Arabia and its allies.

In a statement from Riyadh, the Saudi-led military coalition mourned those killed and claimed there had been attacks targeting an electrical distribution site and a police station on its southern border by “some Houthi elements.”

“In line with the positive efforts being made to seek to end the crisis and reach a comprehensive political solution, the leadership of the joint forces of the coalition affirms its rejection of repeated provocations and reserves the right to respond at the appropriate time and place,” Brig. Gen. Turki al-Maliki said in a statement.

Yemen’s war began in 2014 when the Houthis swept down from their northern stronghold and seized the capital, Sanaa, along with much of the country’s north. In response, a Saudi-led coalition intervened in 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognized government to power.

The fighting soon devolved into a stalemated proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, causing widespread hunger and misery in Yemen, which even before the conflict had been the Arab world’s poorest country. The war has killed more than 150,000 people, including fighters and civilians, and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters, killing tens of thousands more.

Saudi Arabia and Iran restored diplomatic relations earlier this year in a deal brokered by China, further raising hopes for an end to Yemen’s conflict. Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia welcomed a Houthi delegation for peace talks, saying the negotiations had “positive results.”

A U.N.-brokered cease-fire had already largely halted the violence, and Yemen has seen only sporadic clashes since the truce expired nearly a year ago. But diplomats have warned that the situation remains volatile.

Yemen’s internationally recognized government condemned the attack. Foreign Minister Ahmed Bin Mubarak said he spoke by phone with Bahrain’s chief diplomat, Abdullatif al-Zayani, offering his condolences and solidarity with Bahrain.

Bahrain, an island nation in the Persian Gulf off the coast of Saudi Arabia, was rocked by an uprising in 2011 inspired by the Arab Spring protests elsewhere in the region. Many from the country’s Shiite majority called for the overthrow of Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy. Bahrain quashed the revolt with aid from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and blamed much of the unrest on Shiite-majority Iran.