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Humanitarian toll mounts in Yemen war

Red Cross workers meet an aid flight, Sanaa on April 10, 2015. [AFP/GETTY]

Date of publication: 18 April, 2015

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As airstrikes continue to hit Yemen, Saudi Arabia says it will cover in full the UN appeal for $274 million in critical humanitarian aid to the country.

At least 27 people were killed in the Yemeni city of Taiz in clashes between loyalist forces and rebels as well as Saudi-led coalition air raids, medical sources said Saturday.

Residents said the city in southwest Yemen was rocked by explosions and gunfire overnight as the coalition-backed forces of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi battled Houthi rebels. 

Nineteen rebels, four soldiers of a mechanised army unit loyal to the president and four other pro-Hadi fighters were killed, a medical source told AFP.

On Friday, coalition warplanes carried out heavy air strikes on a presidential palace in Taiz, Yemen's third largest city, and of positions held by special forces units loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh who has sided with the Houthis. 

Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia last month as the Houthis closed in on his refuge in the southern city of Aden, having advanced from their stronghold in northern Yemen last year to seize the capital Sanaa.  

Residents and security sources said rival fighters clashed Friday night in districts of Aden, while pro-Hadi forces with the support of air strikes held off rebels battling for the past week for control of Aden's refinery, 15 kilometres (nine miles) to the west of the port city.

Humaitarian crisis

In other developments, Saudi Arabia has ordered $274 million US dollars in aid to Yemen, exactly the amount asked for by the UN.

In a statement carried by the official Saudi news agency SPA late Friday, the Royal Court annonced that King Salman has ordered this donation to provide humanitarian relief work in Yemen through the United Nations.

On Friday, the UN urged the international community to provide $274 million in aid to help save lives and protect some 7.5 million people affected by Yemen's conflict. 

The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said about 150,000 people have been displaced 50 percent more than the previous estimate.

Health facilities had reported 767 deaths from March 19 to April 13, almost certainly an underestimate, it said.

Thousands of families have now fled their homes as a result of the fighting and air strikes," the UN  humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Johannes Van Der Klaauw, said in a statement.

"Ordinary families are struggling to access health care, water, food and fuel – basic requirements for their survival." 

The fighting had destroyed, damaged or disrupted at least five hospitals, 15 schools, Yemen's three main airports, two bridges, two factories and four mosques, as well as markets, power stations and water and sanitation facilities, OCHA said.

Public water services were on the verge of collapse and hospitals were overwhelmed with casualties.

The UN said that along with its partners in Yemen, it needed the funds to purchase medical supplies, safe drinking water, food assistance, emergency shelter and to provide logistical support.
 
Earlier, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate halt to the fighting on Thursday. But his special envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, quit after his plan to halt the war failed.

Iran's peace plan 

Iran's foreign minister on Friday submitted a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon outlining a four-point peace plan.

The plan, which Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced earlier this month, calls for an immediate ceasefire and end of all foreign military attacks, humanitarian assistance, a resumption of broad national dialogue and "establishment of an inclusive national unity government." 

So far, the Iranian diplomatic initiative appears to have little if any support from world powers. 

The Saudi-led coalition began its air campaign on March 25 after the Houthi rebels, who run most of the country, closed in on the southern port city of Aden.

The Houthis, a movement from northern Yemen, have formed an alliance of convenience with Saleh, who is widely believed to be plotting behind the scenes to make a comeback on Yemen's political scene.   

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