Kerry to talk Yemen \'humanitarian pause\' with Saudi Arabia

Friday 01/05/2015
Growing concern for civilians

DJIBOUTI - US Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday he will discuss with Riyadh a "humanitarian pause" in Saudi-led military operations in Yemen to help aid efforts.

Riyadh has said it is considering temporary halts in bombing raids to allow aid deliveries into neighbouring Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition took action on March 26 in an effort to halt an advance by Iran-backed rebels.

There has been growing concern for civilians as the conflict drags on, and on Wednesday 32 people were reported to have died while trying to flee the southern city of Aden by sea.

A health official accused the Huthi Shiite rebels of killing the civilians and wounding another 67 in the shelling that hit a fishing harbour and a barge.

In Djibouti for regional security talks, Kerry told reporters he would raise the issue of a temporary halt to air strikes with Saudi officials when he arrives later Wednesday in Riyadh.

"We will be discussing the nature of the pause and how it might be implemented," Kerry said.

"We are deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation that is unfolding in Yemen... For the time being the immediate crisis is the humanitarian one."

As well as international concern over the growing civilian death toll from the air campaign and fighting, deliveries of fuel, food and medicine have been severely crippled in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula nation.

The United Nations says at least 1,200 people have been killed in Yemen since March 19, roughly half of them civilians.

The air strikes began as anti-government fighters approached Aden, forcing President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to flee to Riyadh.

The new UN envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is to follow Kerry to Riyadh Thursday in a bid to relaunch peace talks as clashes rage in Aden, where rebel gunfire also killed a pro-government general on Wednesday.

A military official said General Ali Nasser Hadi -- no relation to Yemen's exiled president -- was shot dead in Aden. He headed loyalist forces in three southern provinces.

Thousands have fled Yemen, many to Djibouti -- a tiny nation of some 850,000 people which already hosts some 28,000 mainly Somali refugees.

At its narrowest point, there are only some 30 kilometres (20 miles) between Djibouti and Yemen, across the Bab al-Mandeb straits, the key shipping channel at the entrance to the Red Sea that separates Africa from Arabia.

The war in Yemen has also spilled over into its oil-rich neighbour after three people died in a rebel bombardment in southern Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia's interior ministry said late Tuesday the three were killed in a cross-border mortar bomb and rocket attacks launched by the Huthis.

It did not specify if those killed were civilians or troops but fighting along the frontier has killed 12 soldiers and border guards in recent weeks.

Official media said separately that a husband and wife had been killed by a missile in the border region, without specifying its origin.

On April 21, Riyadh declared nearly a month of air strikes a success and said "threats to Saudi Arabia's security and that of neighbouring countries" had been removed by destroying heavy weaponry and ballistic missiles seized by the rebels.

The coalition said it was entering a new phase, but air strikes continued and fighting between pro- and anti-government loyalists continues on the ground with still no sign of peace talks.

Tuesday's attack came as leaders of the six Sunni-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council states gathered for a special summit in Riyadh, with French President Francois Hollande in attendance.

The leaders said they welcomed a decision by Hadi to host a meeting of Yemeni political forces in Riyadh on May 17 with a view to resolving his country's crisis.

But the Huthi rebels reject holding talks in the Saudi capital and have sought negotiations sponsored by the United Nations.

UN envoy Ould Cheikh Ahmed was to hold talks in Paris on Wednesday before travelling to Saudi Arabia, diplomats said.