International

Yemen aid starts to flow as truce mostly holds

RIYADH: Relief agencies on Thursday used a five-day humanitarian truce in Yemen to expand aid distribution to some of the millions deprived of food, fuel and medicine by weeks of fighting and air strikes.

Saudi Arabia, leading a coalition of Arab states backed by the West, has pounded Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Yemen’s former leader since March 26, aiming to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, now exiled in Riyadh.

However, despite weeks of strikes, the Houthis and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh remain entrenched across the country and no side yet looks ready to make concessions for a political solution.

Meanwhile, concern is growing that the air strikes and the fighting between the Houthis, tribal militias, units loyal to Hadi and southern separatists will cause a humanitarian catastrophe.

Aid flights have started from the United Arab Emirates to the capital Sanaa, which is under Houthi control and has faced air strikes but no ground fighting. The United Nations said aid ships had docked at ports of Hodeida and Aden.

A shipping source in Yemen said at least three ships with fuel and wheat had docked in Hodeida and in al-Mukalla; Saudi Arabia had sent eight truckloads of diesel overland to Hadramout province; and Qatar had sent medicine and food via Djibouti.

The Houthi-run Saba news agency said two planes with medics and supplies from the International Committee of the Red Cross and Medecins sans Frontieres had landed in the capital.

CEASEFIRE VIOLATIONS

In north Yemen, aid agencies started to distribute food to 33,000 people, as well as medicine to hospitals and hygiene kits to refugees, said the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Since Saturday, about 8 percent of the 5 million liters of fuel needed to distribute aid each month had arrived in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia and the Houthis have each accused the other of violating the truce.

Late on Wednesday, 24 hours after it began, Saudi Arabia said the Houthis had fired on the Saudi border and continued to fight inside Yemen, but that it would not resume air strikes yet.

On Thursday, residents said Houthis were still pushing toward al-Bureiqa, where Aden’s oil refineries are located. Residents also said two people had been killed by Houthi snipers in Aden, and seven Houthis had died in the city of al-Dhalea.

Talks between political parties other than the Houthis will start in Riyadh on Sunday and focus on southern demands for independence, which have grown as a result of the fighting, Foreign Minister Reyad Yassin Abdulla said.

“Aden and the south has suffered most of the damage, most demolition, most of the people killed and tortured. The Houthis concentrated their damage on the south. They killed what remained of the unity of Yemen,” he said by phone.

The former ruling General People’s Congress and main opposition groups including the southern Herak and Islamist Islah will attend the three-day talks, as well as tribal leaders, he said.

The United States has pushed Saudi Arabia and Hadi’s government to use the talks as a bridge to wider U.N.-sponsored discussions including the Houthis, Gulf diplomats have said.

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