Hassan Irlu, Iran’s envoy to the Houthis, has left Yemen and headed back to the Islamic Republic to receive treatment after testing positive for COVID-19, Iran’s foreign ministry said on Saturday.

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Iran had recently contacted “some regional countries” to help facilitate Irlu’s transfer to Iran for treatment, foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said, according to the official IRNA news agency.

“Irlu has been infected with the coronavirus for a few days now,” he said. “His transfer to Iran is currently underway.”

Khatibzadeh denied media reports that Irlu was leaving Yemen due to a dispute with the Houthis.

The Wall Street Journal, citing regional and western officials, reported on Friday that the Houthis sought to send Irlu back to Iran.

“Irlu has become a burden for them,” the WSJ quoted a regional official as saying. “He’s a political problem.”

Iran appointed Irlu as its envoy to the Houthis in October 2020.

In December 2020, the US imposed terrorism sanctions on Irlu. The US Treasury described him as an official of Iran’s Quds Force, the overseas arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Iran is a primary source of support for the Houthis.

Tehran’s support for the Houthis is “quite significant and it’s lethal,” US special envoy on Yemen Tim Lenderking said in April.

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