Red Cross to start aid flights to war-torn Yemen
The Red Cross hopes to start vital medical aid flights into besieged Yemen after receiving approval from the Saudi-led military coalition yesterday.
The aid agency has been negotiating for nearly a week to deliver life-saving supplies and equipment to Yemen, where the coalition has conducted 11 days of air strikes against Iran-backed Shi'ite Houthis. The coalition now controls the country's ports and air space.
Houthi fighters and allied army units clashed with local militias in the southern city of Aden yesterday, and eyewitnesses said gun battles and heavy shelling ripped through a downtown district near the city's port.
The Houthi forces have been battling to take Aden, a last foothold of fighters loyal to Saudi-backed president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, advancing to the city centre despite the coalition bombardment.
Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia launched the air strikes on March 26 in an attempt to turn back the Houthis, who already control Yemen's capital Sanaa, and restore some of Hadi's crumbling authority.
The air and sea campaign has targeted Houthi convoys, missiles and weapons stores and cut off any possible outside reinforcements - although the Houthis deny Saudi accusations that they are armed by Tehran.
The fighting has failed so far to inflict any decisive defeat on the Houthis, or the supporters of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh who are fighting alongside them, but the growing death toll and humanitarian suffering has alarmed aid workers.
The UN said last week that more than 500 people had been killed in two weeks of fighting in Yemen.
A pro-Hadi militia source said 36 Houthi and allied fighters were killed yesterday in Aden's central Mualla district, near the port, while 11 of Hadi's combatants died.
Houthi forces initially advanced towards the port area, but hours later had been pushed back several streets towards an army base.
"There are bodies in the streets and we can't get close because there are Houthi snipers on the rooftops. Anything that gets near, they shoot at, and the shelling on Mualla has been indiscriminate," one medic said.
Both Saudi Arabia and the Houthis say they are ready for talks which could return Yemen to the political transition which started when Saleh stood down in 2012 following huge street protests against his rule.