Humanitarian fears grow as clashes rock Yemen

2015-04-13 21:06

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Aden - Aid agencies warned Monday of a growing humanitarian crisis including food shortages in Yemen as Saudi-led warplanes hit rebel positions for a third week and rival forces clashed.

In Riyadh, Yemen's Prime Minister Khaled Bahah was sworn in as vice president at the country's embassy in front of exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, a day after his appointment, in a move welcomed by Yemen's Gulf neighbours.

Hadi accused Iran of fuelling a "campaign of horror and destruction" by the Shi'ite Huthi rebels, charging Tehran in an opinion editorial published in the New York Times of being "obsessed with regional domination".

Yemen's main southern city of Aden saw the heaviest fighting overnight, with medics and military forces saying at least 30 people were killed in clashes between rebels and supporters of Hadi.

Residents said warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition pounded the rebel-held presidential complex and other positions in Aden, Hadi's last refuge before he fled to neighbouring Saudi Arabia as the air war began on March 26.

The Huthis, who have joined with forces loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, advanced on Aden last month after seizing the capital Sana'a last year.

Saudi Arabia has accused Iran, the main Shi'ite power, of backing the rebel offensive and rallied support from regional allies for the coalition.

Western powers have also backed Hadi as Yemen's legitimate ruler, while the United Nations has called for a resumption of talks.

Heavy fighting in Aden on Sunday killed at least 13 civilians, 11 rebels and six pro-Hadi fighters, medical and military sources said.

'Mass exodus'

Humanitarian groups have struggled to deliver aid and said Monday the situation in Aden was deteriorating rapidly.

"Shops are closed. We have a problem of food," said Marie-Elisabeth Ingres, Yemen representative of Doctors without Borders (MSF).

Metaz al-Maisuri, an activist in Aden, said basic services had ceased and there had been a "mass exodus" from the city.

"Schools, universities and all public and private facilities have been shut," he told AFP.

"Residents' lives have become very difficult and complicated... They can no longer obtain the food they need," he said.

Adwaa Mubarak, a 48-year-old Aden resident, said: "We are unable to leave our houses to buy what we need because of the Huthi snipers."

She said several people were shot dead as they queued for bread.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned from Doha on Sunday of a huge humanitarian crisis as "civilian casualties are mounting and public infrastructure is being destroyed".

Aid workers said Sanaa is also suffering, as air strikes hit rebel positions there and supplies dwindle.

"There is a food and water shortage. People are unable to move," said Marie Claire Feghali, the Red Cross spokesperson in Yemen.

The International Committee of the Red Cross flew more than 35 tonnes of medical aid and equipment into Sana'a on Saturday, after Friday's first deliveries organised by the Red Cross and United Nations.

Foreigners evacuated

Thousands of foreigners have been trapped by the fighting, with the International Organisation for Migration saying more than 16 000 are stranded.

Some evacuations have taken place, with Russia on Sunday saying it had evacuated more than 650 people by air and sea.

The IOM said it had also flown a first planeload of 141 passengers out of Sana'a.

Riyadh has called on Iran to end its support for the rebels, accusing Tehran of assisting "criminal activities" in Yemen and giving the Huthis weapons and aid.

Iran has denied the allegation, and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has condemned the coalition's raids on Yemen as "criminal".

Hadi in his opinion piece accused the rebels of being Iran's "puppets".

"Having a hostile government in a nation bordering the Bab al-Mandab strait - the highly trafficked shipping lane leading to the Suez Canal - is in no nation's interest," he wrote.

"If the Huthis are not stopped, they are destined to become the next Hezbollah, deployed by Iran to threaten the people in the region and beyond.

"The oil shipments through the Red Sea that much of the world depends on will be in jeopardy, and Al Qaeda and other radical groups will be allowed to flourish."

Al-Qaeda has exploited the chaos to seize areas including one provincial capital.

Before the violence escalated, Washington had waged a longstanding drone war against al-Qaeda in Yemen.

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