Arab coalition suspends Yemen air war to allow desperately needed aid

Friday 24/07/2015
Humanitarian pause for sake of Yemeni people

SANAA - The Saudi-led coalition fighting rebels in Yemen suspended its air war Monday to allow desperately needed aid deliveries, although clashes broke out in several areas despite UN calls for a truce.

The Huthi Shiite rebels, who control swathes of Yemen including the capital Sanaa, said they had not been consulted about the unilateral coalition ceasefire that began at midnight (Sunday 2100 GMT).

The Arab regional coalition, which has waged four months of air strikes in support of exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, announced the five-day truce to allow emergency supplies to flow into the impoverished nation.

It reserved the right to respond to "military activity or movement" but there were no reports of new air raids by dawn despite several new attacks by the rebels.

The Huthis bombarded areas overnight in the southern provinces of Taez, Lahj and Dhaleh, according to witnesses and military sources.

Rebel tanks fired on residential areas in Jebel Sabr in Taez, witnesses said, sparking clashes with loyalist troops, witnesses said. Military sources said 11 rebels, five civilians and four loyalists were killed.

In Marib to the east of Sanaa, rebels launched an offensive against loyalist positions, residents said.

Clashes also erupted outside the southern port city of Aden, where pro-government fighters last week expelled the rebels after four months of ferocious fighting.

The loyalists seized Mujassam, an area on the northern outskirts of the city, as well as several farms near Bir Ahmed district, military source said.

Three rockets allegedly fired by the rebels struck Monday afternoon near Aden airport which reopened last week for aid delivery after being recaptured by loyalists, other military sources said.

The loyalist forces have been bolstered by new weaponry and armoured vehicles delivered by the coalition.

Troops trained and armed by the coalition appeared to have triggered the shift in favour of the pro-Hadi forces.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon earlier made a plea for all sides to "agree to and maintain the humanitarian pause for the sake of all the Yemeni people".

But Mohammed Ali al-Huthi, the self-described "president of the High Committee of the Revolution", a body formed by Huthi militants, said his group had not been consulted by the UN about the ceasefire.

The group could therefore not give a "negative or positive" answer about the truce, he said.

The Red Cross called on all parties to respect the ceasefire, and urged a longer truce.

"We would like to see a longer and stable truce, which is respected from all sides to allow humanitarian agencies to reach all affected areas," said the Red Cross spokesman in Sanaa, Adnan Hizam.

"Five days are not enough to cover the humanitarian needs," he told AFP.

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

A UN-declared six-day truce failed to take hold earlier this month after it was ignored by both the coalition and the rebels.

Relief supplies, however, have begun to trickle into Aden after loyalist fighters secured the city, which had been Hadi's last refuge before he fled to Saudi Arabia in March.

Several ships have docked in Aden since last Tuesday carrying thousands of tonnes of aid supplies sent by the UN World Food Programme and Gulf nations.

But distributing the aid, particularly outside the city, poses a major challenge.