Wednesday 29 March 2017

Ceasefire plea to stave off disaster over Yemen blitz

A doctor attends to a newborn baby in a special care unit at a hospital in Yemen’s capital Sana’a. Food shortages and a lack of fuel have crippled services at the hospital, according to doctors. Photo: Reuters
A doctor attends to a newborn baby in a special care unit at a hospital in Yemen’s capital Sana’a. Food shortages and a lack of fuel have crippled services at the hospital, according to doctors. Photo: Reuters

Louisa Loveluck in Cairo

Saudi Arabia has called for Houthi rebels to agree a five-day ceasefire in Yemen to give time for life-saving aid deliveries to enter the country.

Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, said his country would halt its bombing campaign if Yemen's Houthi rebels and their allies agreed to the deal.

"There will be a ceasefire everywhere or there will be a ceasefire nowhere," said Mr Jubeir, speaking at a news conference with visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry.

The poorest country in the Arab world, Yemen has been ravaged by a 40-day war that has pitted the Houthis against local militia on the ground and Saudi-led fighter jets in the air. Over 1,200 people have been killed, among them at least 130 children.

Even if the proposed ceasefire holds, there is little suggestion that the Saudi-led coalition will end its bombing campaign before the Houthis have joined formal negotiations.

Trond Jensen, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Yemen, described the proposed humanitarian truce as "very welcome", but called on all parties to work towards a sustainable solution that could allow civilians to start rebuilding the country's devastated infrastructure.

A day earlier, Yemen had urged the United Nations to "save Yemen" by sending ground troops.

The Saudi-led coalition sent a small force of Yemeni nationals to the southern port city of Aden at the weekend, but commanders have denied that a major ground offensive is being prepared.

Aden has witnessed some of the worst fighting of the war to date. Residents are suffering severe food and water shortages, due to the intensity of violence within the city itself.

The Saudi-led coalition has also maintained a strict air and sea blockade, making aid deliveries almost impossible.

Yesterday, Human Rights Watch accused Houthi forces of possible war crimes, including using snipers to shoot civilians as they crossed the streets, as well as kidnapping local aid workers. "Aden's civilians are already in dire straits, without being attacked, detained, and held hostage," said Joe Stork, the group's deputy Middle East and North Africa director.

"Leaders of the Houthis and other forces need to protect civilians, not abuse and terrorise them."

He warned that abuses uncovered so far may be "just the tip of the iceberg". Journalists and human rights organisations have struggled to enter Yemen, due to the ferocity of the fighting.

Telecommunications are patchy, making it difficult to broadcast news of the violence.

At least 38 civilians were killed on Wednesday and 95 were wounded, when shelling hit people trying to escape Aden by sea, city health chief Al-Khader Laswar said.

Yemen's letter sent to the Security Council urged human rights groups to document "barbaric violations against a defenceless population."

But the exiled government's Saudi backers have also been accused of reckless bombing raids that have caused mass civilian casualties.

In March, airstrikes hit a refugee camp and a factory complex, killing dozens of civilians.(© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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