Middle East

Saudis declare Yemen truce to allow in aid

Shiite fighters known as Houthis wearing army uniforms ride in a pickup while patrolling in a street during a rally against Saudi-led airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen, Friday, July 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

ADEN: The Saudi-led coalition bombing Yemeni rebels since March declared a five-day truce Saturday so aid can reach a country the U.N. says is on the brink of a humanitarian disaster.

Announcing the unilateral truce to begin from midnight Sunday, a statement on the official Saudi Press Agency said the coalition also reserved the right to respond to "military activity or movement" by the Shiite Houthi rebels during the ceasefire.

The move came as Yemeni medical sources said a coalition air raid killed at least 35 civilians in the southwest of the war-ravaged Arabian Peninsula nation.

SPA said the cease-fire decision came at the request of Yemen's President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi, who has taken refuge in the Saudi capital with much of his government.

Hadi wanted the truce for the "delivery and distribution of the maximum amount of humanitarian and medical aid", it said.

Anti-rebel fighters including Hadi loyalists have recaptured most of the southern port of Aden from the rebels after four months of war.

Two previous cease-fires failed to take hold.

An earlier Saudi-initiated humanitarian pause lasted for five days in May but the coalition resumed airstrikes immediately after it expired, accusing the rebels of numerous violations.

A six-day U.N.-proposed truce due to begin just before midnight on July 10 also failed as clashes and coalition air strikes persisted.

There has been no rebel response so far to the latest Saudi truce move, which came as Yemeni medical sources said a coalition raid on the town of Mokhba near Taiz killed at least 35 civilians late Friday.

Women and children were among the dead, the sources said.

Residents said the raid hit a residential neighborhood where employees of the town's power station live. They said several houses were destroyed and dozens of people were wounded.

Some witnesses said the district had been targeted by mistake, but others alleged that the Houthis had taken up positions in the area.

In late March, the coalition began its campaign of air strikes after the Houthis swept into Sanaa and pushed south towards Aden, where Hadi initially took refuge before fleeing to Riyadh.

Coalition jets carried out fresh raids overnight on Houthi positions across Yemen, including around Aden, military sources said.

The United Nations says the conflict has killed more than 3,640 people, around half of them civilians, since late March.

On Friday, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that civilian suffering in Yemen has reached "unprecedented levels".

The ICRC said intensifying violence in the south was hamstringing emergency medical aid.

It voiced particular concern over worsening clashes in the southern provinces of Taiz and Aden.

"The suffering of the civilian population has reached unprecedented levels," ICRC mission chief in Yemen Antoine Grand said in a statement.

In Aden and Taiz, "it is becoming increasingly difficult for us to reach affected areas, to evacuate the dead and the wounded and to provide life-saving assistance," Grand added.

The aid group urged both pro-Hadi forces and the Iran-backed rebels and their allies to let humanitarian groups work.

Aden's international airport was closed for months, but recent gains by Hadi loyalists allowed it to reopen this week.

Four aircraft carrying humanitarian supplies have since landed there, although the airport came under fire from rebels Thursday as a Saudi plane was unloading.

The ICRC warned that, as the fighting escalated, so too did "shortages of water, food and fuel across the country".

A boat chartered by the Red Cross and loaded with humanitarian supplies successfully docked at Aden Thursday.

The ICRC insisted that aid should not be held hostage by the shifting situation on the ground.

"All sides must facilitate our access and respect our mandate," it said.

A humanitarian cease-fire declared by the U.N. earlier this month was not respected, and the world body warned that the impoverished country was just "one step away from famine."

 

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