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Human Rights Watch urges Yemen rebels to allow aid to besieged city

Human Rights Watch has accused Yemen's Houthi rebels of preventing vital aid from entering the besieged western city of Taiz. The watchdog said it was a "serious violation of international humanitarian law."

In a statement released on Sunday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the Iranian-backed insurgents to allow access into Yemen's third-largest city and "immediately end the unlawful confiscation of goods intended for the civilian population and permit full access by aid agencies."

The organization claimed that rebel guards at checkpoints have confiscated water, food, cooking gas and medical supplies that residents have tried to carry into besieged areas since September.

"Seizing property from civilians is alreaady unlawful, but taking their food and medical supplies is simply cruel," said HRW Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Joe Stork.

International relief agencies are also facing difficulties bringing in food and medicine to the city. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it was able to deliver essential medical supplies to hospitals in Taiz in early January, in the first such "significant" shipment in five months.

According to UN figures, the population of Taiz has plummeted from around 600,000 to no more than 200,000 after many fled the fighting. More than 5,800 people have been killed in Yemen since March. Civilians made up about half of the deaths.

Saudi-led airstrikes

Yemen's conflict, which intensified last spring, has pitted the rebels and army units loyal to former President Ali Abdulla Saleh against forces of the internationally recognized government of current President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Hadi's government is

backed by a Saudi-led coalition, which has carried out air and ground operations in Yemen

since March, in a bid to support local forces fight against the rebels and their allies.

Fighting in Yemen has been exacerbated, however, by the presence of al Qaeda and "Islamic State" militants. The groups have carried out several deadly attacks and in attempted land grabs.

ksb/sms (AFP, AP, dpa)

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