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Red Cross, UN fly aid into Yemen as raids batter south

SANAA: The Red Cross and UN flew medical aid into Yemen’s capital Friday after southern city Aden was battered by the heaviest night yet of Saudi-led air strikes targeting Shiite rebels.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it dispatched an aircraft to Sanaa, its first aid shipment since the international campaign against Shiite rebels began last month.

“This is the first ICRC plane to have landed in Sanaa. It is loaded with 16 tonnes of medical aid,” said Marie Claire Feghali, the organisation’s spokeswoman in Yemen.

Residents and officials in Aden said the southern city was pounded overnight after Huthi Shiite rebels and renegade army soldiers loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh arrived at the city’s northern entrance.

“The raids began at around 10:00 pm (1900 GMT) on Thursday and were the most violent since the start of ‘Operation Decisive Storm’,” a resident told AFP.

Residents also said coalition aircraft targeted other positions, including a stadium in the centre of the city and checkpoints manned by the rebel forces.

More than two weeks of heavy bombardment by the Saudi-led alliance against opponents of exiled Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and fighting between rival militias has prompted calls for urgent humanitarian intervention the impoverished nation.

The UN’s children agency UNICEF said it had delivered 16 tonnes of aid by air to Sanaa on Friday.

It said the shipment contained medical supplies for 80,000 people as well as food supplements for 20,000 children.

“The supplies we have managed to bring in today can make the difference between life and death for children and their families,” said UNICEF Yemen Representative Julien Harneis.

The Saudi-led coalition says it will continue its raids on Yemen until Iran-backed Huthi rebels, who seized control of Sanaa and central areas last year, retreat to their northern mountain stronghold.

– US tracks Iran flights –

In the most direct American criticism yet of Tehran’s backing for the rebels, Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday the United States would not accept foreign interference in Yemen.

“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,” he told PBS television.

Iran’s leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned the campaign against the Huthis must end.

“This move is not acceptable in the region and I would warn that they must stop these criminal acts in Yemen,” he said on his website.

On Friday, Pakistan’s parliament rejected calls to join the anti-Huthi coalition, turning down longstanding ally Riyadh’s request for troops, ships and warplanes.

“Parliament of Pakistan… underscores the need for continued efforts by the government of Pakistan to find a peaceful resolution of the crisis,” it said.

Friday’s Red Cross shipment was made up of “drugs and surgical instruments,” said the ICRC.

“These supplies will mean the difference between life and death for those wounded in this conflict,” said Cedric Schweizer, who leads the ICRC team in Yemen.

On Wednesday, two aid boats arrived in Aden carrying supplies and personnel destined for those trapped by and injured in ongoing battles.

The Red Cross has been appealing for an immediate truce to facilitate aid deliveries.

UNICEF warned meanwhile that about 30 percent of fighters in Yemen’s armed groups were minors.

“We are seeing children in battle, at checkpoints and unfortunately among (those) killed and injured,” Julien Harneis, UNICEF’s representative in Yemen, told AFP in Geneva.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Yemen’s warring factions to return to political talks, which were aimed at ending the country’s slide into chaos since Saleh’s 2012 ousting.

“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 weekend trip to Qatar.

He warned that the air strikes and the Huthi offensive could have “deep and long-lasting regional repercussions”. -AFP

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