PHOTO: The Red Cross has delivered 16 tonnes of emergency medical aid to Yemen’s capital Sanaa. (AFP: Mohammed Huwais)
The Red Cross and UN have flown medical aid into Yemen’s capital Sanaa, after the southern city of Aden was battered by the heaviest night yet of Saudi-led air strikes targeting Shiite rebels.
The United Nations also called for a daily “humanitarian pause” of a few hours, saying aid was desperately needed in the conflict-ravaged country.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it dispatched an aircraft to Sanaa, its first aid shipment since the international campaign against Shiite rebels began last month.
“This is the first ICRC plane to have landed in Sanaa. It is loaded with 16 tonnes of medical aid,” Red Cross spokeswoman Marie Claire Feghali said.
“These supplies will mean the difference between life and death for those wounded in this conflict,” said Cedric Schweizer, who leads the ICRC team in Yemen.
Residents and officials in Aden said the city was pounded after Houthi Shiite rebels and renegade soldiers loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh reached the city’s northern entrance.
“The raids began at around 10:00 pm [local time] on Thursday and were the most violent since the start of Operation Decisive Storm,” a resident said.
Residents also said coalition aircraft targeted other positions, including a city centre stadium and rebel-manned checkpoints.
On Wednesday, two aid boats arrived in Aden carrying supplies and personnel destined for people trapped by and wounded in ongoing battles.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR said on Friday that at least 900 Yemenis had fled the violence to countries in the Horn of Africa over the past 10 days.
Current aid will not be enough: UN
UN humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, Johannes Van Der Klaauw, told reporters in Geneva that the aid delivered so far was not enough, and that an immediate humanitarian pause in the conflict was desperately needed.
“The situation in Aden is extremely, extremely preoccupying if not catastrophic,” he said.
He warned that Yemen’s second largest city had fallen prey to “urban warfare” and “uncontrollable militias”.
The World Health Organization said nearly 650 people have been killed and more than 2,000 injured in the fighting, but the actual number of fatalities was likely to be far higher since many people were not reaching hospitals and being buried immediately, Mr Van Der Klaauw said.
The UN’s children agency UNICEF said it had airlifted 16 tonnes of aid to Sanaa, including medical supplies for 80,000 people as well as food supplements for 20,000 children.
“The supplies we have managed to bring in today can make the difference between life and death for children and their families,” said UNICEF Yemen representative Julien Harneis.
Pakistan votes not to join Saudi-led coalition
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s parliament has rejected calls to join the anti-Houthi coalition, turning down longstanding ally Riyadh’s request for troops, ships and warplanes.
“[The] parliament of Pakistan … underscores the need for continued efforts by the government of Pakistan to find a peaceful resolution of the crisis,” it said.
The Saudi-led coalition said it would continue its raids on Yemen until Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who seized control of Sanaa and central areas last year, retreat to their northern mountain stronghold.
Iran’s leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that the air campaign against the Houthis must end.
“This move is not acceptable in the region and I would warn that they must stop these criminal acts in Yemen,” he said on his website.
US secretary of state John Kerry said the United States would not accept foreign interference in Yemen, specifying Iran’s involvement.
“There have been – there are, obviously – flights coming from Iran. Every single week there are flights from Iran and we’ve traced it and know this,” he told PBS television.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged the warring factions to return to political talks, which were aimed at ending Yemen’s slide into chaos since the 2012 ousting of president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
“The last thing the region and our world need is more of the chaos and crimes we have seen in Libya and Syria,” Mr Ban said ahead of a trip to Qatar.