UN debates Russian proposal for ‘humanitarian pauses’ in Yemen

The UN Security Council is considering a Russian call for a military pause in Yemen to allow aid through. The Red Cross has warned of many more deaths in the country without rapid assistance to the wounded.

The Russian draft resolution circulated at an emergency meeting of the Security Council on Saturday called for “regular and obligatory” breaks in air strikes by a Saudi-led military coalition to allow aid to be delivered to civilians caught in fighting.

After the meeting, Jordan’s UN Ambassador Dina Kawar, the current president of the Council, said members needed time to consider the Russian proposal, but recognised that there was a “grave humanitarian situation” in Yemen.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has also called for an immediate ceasefire to allow medical aid to get through.

Proxy war

Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia, backed by its Gulf Arab partners, has been carrying out military operations in neighboring Yemen since March 26 in a bid to stem advances in the country by Shiite Houthi rebels who Riyadh says are armed by Iran.

A spokesman for the Saudi-led military coalition said that aid would be allowed into Yemen when the situation permitted.

“The humanitarian operation is part of our job, part of our responsibility,” Brigadier General Ahmed Assir told reporters on Saturday.

At the same time, he warned that delivery of aid should not hamper military operations and that the assistance should not fall into the wrong hands.

Map showing Sunni and Shiite majority regions in Yemen

Yemen is wracked by sectarian divisions

The conflict in Yemen pits Houthi rebels allied with army units loyal to ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh against forces supporting President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled from the southern Yemeni city of Aden to Saudi Arabia last week.

Civilians in peril

Aden, the last major foothold of Hadi supporters, has seen some of the worst of recent fighting, with the ICRC saying that hospitals there are running short of medicines and that the streets are strewn with bodies.

The head of the ICRC’s operations in the Near and Middle East has warned that “many more people will die” unless humanitarian aid reaches people in the worst-affected areas, including Aden.

“For the wounded, their chances of survival depend on actions within hours, not days,” Robert Mardini said.

Residents in Aden say ships from the Saudi-led coalition have shelled Houthi forces that have captured several districts there, while coalition jets have parachuted weapons to supply fighters loyal to Hadi. Parts of the southern port city are reportedly without water or electricity, with no end to the fighting in sight.

The UN says more than 500 people have been killed and nearly 1,700 wounded in Yemen in the past two weeks.