Yemen fighting sparks ‘dire humanitarian crisis’

Aid agencies call for pause in hostilities as Russia holds emergency meeting at UN Security Council to tackle crisis.

Fighting between Yemen’s Houthi rebels and forces loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi for the control of the southern city of Aden has continued, sparking a “dire humanitarian situation”.

The Red Cross on Saturday called for a 24-hour ceasefire in Yemen to give aid workers a chance to address the crisis, as a Saudi-led military coalition pressed ahead with airstrikes on Houthi positions.

“We urgently need an immediate halt to the fighting to allow families in the worst affected areas, such as Aden, to venture out to get food and water, or to seek medical care,” said Robert Mardini, the agency’s head of operations in the Middle East.

Marie-Claire Feghali, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, told Al Jazeera that her organisation was finding it hard to bring in medical supplies.

“The humanitarian situation is extremely difficult and is getting more difficult by the day,” she said.

Feghali added that many wounded people were not getting medical supplies and that “hospitals are overwhelmed”.

Yemen has been reeling from violence, with Houthi rebels who forced Hadi to flee the country to Saudi Arabia fighting to expand their control, while forces backing the president are battling the rebels.

The Houthis, who belong to the Shia sect, swept into Sanaa last September and forced Hadi to flee his presidential palace for Aden, where he has a power base.

A Saudi-led coalition seeking to reinstate Hadi began bombing Houthi positions on March 26 and its planes have been dropping weapons to forces loyal to the president.

Russia on Saturday called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council and circulated a draft resolution demanding “regular and obligatory” breaks in airstrikes by a Saudi-led military coalition against the Houthis.

The draft, obtained by the Associated Press, also demands “rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches people in need”.

Russia’s Deputy UN Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov told reporters as he headed into the closed meeting that a pause is “very important” to help diplomats and civilians caught in the war. 

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According to the director of Aden’s health department, Al-Khedar Lassouar, fighting has left at least 185 people dead and more than 1,200 wounded, including many civilians. 

The toll does not include victims among the Houthi rebels and their allies who do not take their casualties to public hospitals, he said on Saturday. It also excludes victims of Saudi-led air raids.

Hospitals treating the wounded are running low on medicines and the streets of Aden are strewn with dead bodies, claimed the Red Cross’s Mardini.

The coalition bombing Houthi positions involves five members of the Gulf Cooperation Council – Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Oman, another member of the GCC, is not part of the coalition.

Other countries that have pledged support include Egypt, Jordan and Sudan. 

Dina Kawar, Jordan’s UN ambassador, said on Saturday her country was trying to resolve the crisis in Yemen. She said the problems now plaguing the country started after Houthis rejected the 2201 Security Council resolution.

Passed in February, the resolution demanded that Houthi rebels “immediately and unconditionally” withdraw from Government institutions, safely release Hadi who was then under house arrest, and engage in good faith in United Nations-brokered negotiations. 

Infographic: Who's for and against military action in Yemen [Al Jazeera]
Infographic: Who’s for and against military action in Yemen [Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies