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UN envoy arrives in Yemen as five-day truce begins

The UN envoy to Yemen has started his first official visit to the country, as a humanitarian ceasefire begins. Aid agencies have warned that the five-day truce won't be enough to deliver supplies.

The truce, aimed at helping aid organizations distribute urgently needed supplies, went into effect at 11 p.m. local time (2000 UTC).

UN special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed landed in Sanaa just ahead of the temporary halt to fighting, after touring the Gulf states taking part in the campaign.

"We will discuss the humanitarian truce and the Yemeni parties' return to the negotiating table," Ahmed said.

The Mauritanian diplomat was appointed special envoy late last month, after his predecessor Jamal Benomar lost support from Gulf states for allegedly being too accommodating towards Houthi rebels.

Saudi Arabia has warned that the success of the armistice depended on the behavior of Houthi rebels, which Riyadh claims are backed by Iran.

The rebels have promised to respond "positively" to the planned truce, and the plan has also been accepted by forces loyal to the ousted president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Despite the ceasefire plans, the Saudi-led coalition continued to target Sanaa on Tuesday. Only a day earlier, warplanes hit arms and ammunition depots in the Yemeni capital, killing at least 69 people and wounding more than 100, according to the Houthi-controlled Health Ministry.

Situation 'catastrophic'

Several UN and other international agencies were preparing a massive effort to deliver aid during the temporary ceasefire. With its 25 million people, Yemen was burdened by poverty and food shortages even before the violence started.

UN World Food Programme (WFP) spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said the agency was "ready to provide emergency food rations to over 750,000 people in conflict-hit areas of Yemen during the pause."

The Red Cross spokesman in Sanaa, Adnan Hizam, said a humanitarian truce of more than five days was needed.

"We hope the truce would last longer, and become permanent. And we hope all sides respect it," he told the AFP news agency, lamenting a "catastrophic" humanitarian situation.

The ceasefire is supported by the US, which has said that the duration of it could be extended.

Iranian warships to head towards Yemen

On Tuesday, Iran's navy said it would direct warships to protect a cargo ship reportedly carrying emergency supplies to Yemen, to be distributed during the truce.

The move provoked a swift reaction in Washington, with US Army Colonel Steve Warren saying that the US is monitoring the Iranian vessel.

"If the Iranians are planning some sort of stunt in the region, they know as well as we do that it would be unhelpful and in fact could potentially threaten the ceasefire that has been so painstakingly brought about," Warren said.

He added that Teheran should direct its vessel to the United Nations hub in Djibouti, where the aid efforts for Yemen are being coordinated.

Several US warships are already in the region near the Arab country.

More child soldiers

On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch said the Houthi rebels have boosted training and deployment of children, using them as scouts, guards, runners and fighters.

Commanders of the rebels and other groups "should stop using children or risk prosecution for war crimes," the rights group said.

In addition to the fighting between Houthis and government forces, and the coalition airstrikes, parts of the country are now controlled by its powerful al Qaeda branch.

More than 1,500 people have been killed in the conflict, including at least 646 civilians, according to the UN.

dj/kms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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