China is evacuating its citizens from Yemen and suspending anti-piracy patrols in the area amid the growing violence in the Middle Eastern country.

Three Chinese navy ships were diverted to the port of Aden to rescue about 500 Chinese nationals caught in the conflict, state media reported on Monday, marking only the second time Chinese military assets have been used in such a mission.

China took the unprecedented step of dispatching one of its most sophisticated warships and military transport aircraft to help in the evacuation of about 35,000 Chinese citizens amid Libya's civil war in 2011.

No Chinese have been reported killed or injured in the fighting in Yemen that now threatens a potentially dangerous clash between U.S.-allied Arab states and Iran.

The official China Shipowners' Association said on its website that it had been notified that China was temporarily halting its participation in multinational patrols in the Gulf of Aden aimed at countering Somali pirates.

The notice said it wasn't clear when the patrols would resume and Defense Ministry spokesmen could not immediately be reached for comment.

China joined the patrols in December 2008 and has sent a total of 19 squadrons to maintain an unbroken presence in the area.