The United Nations has appealed for an immediate pause in fighting in Yemen, to enable aid workers to bring much-needed relief to the conflict zone. The southern port city of Aden remains particularly fiercely contested.
The UN's humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Johannes Van Der Klaauw, conceded on Friday that aid agencies had not yet been able to supply sufficient help to people affected by the fighting in the Gulf state. He said that "an immediate humanitarian pause in this conflict" was desperately needed, urging both sides to agree to daily hours-long truces to allow aid in.
"The humanitarian situation in Yemen is getting worse by the hour," Van Der Klaauw said. "Millions of people are at risk of physical injury or death due to ongoing fighting on the ground and airstrikes, but also because of the quick unraveling of anything there was left of basic services including health care, safe water and availability of food."
Van Der Klaauw told reporters in Geneva that the situation was most dire to the south in the disputed port city of Aden, calling the situation in the country's second city "extremely, extremely preoccupying if not catastrophic." According to the UN official, the city had fallen prey to "urban warfare" and "uncontrollable militias."
Aid arrives in Sanaa
The appeal was issued as two planes carrying medical supplies, one from the UN and the other from the International Committee of the Red Cross, landed in the rebel-held capital Sanaa. It was the first international aid delivery of its kind since Saudi Arabia and eight other Sunni Arab countries launched attacks against the Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The Red Cross and UN were finally able to get provisions into the country, but said far more was needed
The Red Cross plane was carrying 16.4 tons of equipment, including medicine, bandages, IV fluids and surgical equipment. The UN's first delivery, from children's agency UNICEF, included water supplies, food supplements and medical equipment.
"The supplies we have managed to bring in today can make the difference between life and death for children and their families," said UNICEF's Yemen representative Julien Harneis.
The UNHCR has said that as many as 900 Yemenis have already fled the violence by boat, seeking to reach the Horn of Africa.
Saudi-Iranian struggle for satellite
The Saudi coalition mobilized after Yemen rebels seized control of Sanaa and central areas last year, ultimately forcing President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee the country in March. The Saudi attacks also followed a US decision to pull its personnel out of the increasingly unstable country. Yemen's neighbor has said it will not stop the campaign until the Houthis return to their traditional stronghold in the northern mountains.
The Shiite militias are broadly thought to have backing both from Iran's central government and perhaps even from Yemen's former leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who formally ceded power, after a very protracted Arab Spring process, by February 2012.
US Secretary of State John Kerry came unusually close to acknowledging this perceived link with Tehran in a TV interview on Thursday.
"There have been - there are, obviously - flights coming from Iran. Every single week there are flights from Iran and we've traced it and know this," Kerry told PBS television.
On the Iranian side, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said that the air campaign against the Houthis must end.
Pakistan's parliament on Friday elected not to join the Saudi-led coalition, saying it "underscores the need for continued efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis."
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged the exiled Hadi government and the rebels to return to fragile peace talks - ongoing since Saleh's 2012 departure - and to abandon fighting.
"The last thing the region and our world need is more of the chaos and crimes we have seen in Libya and Syria," Ban said ahead of a trip to Qatar.
msh/cmk (AFP, AP, dpa)