Yemen’s Huthi rebels said Tuesday they have allowed the temporary resumption of UN aid flights into the capital Sanaa, a week after a halt due to Saudi-led coalition airstrikes.
“The civil aviation authority announces the resumption of UN and other organisation flights into Sanaa airport on a temporary basis,” the rebel-run Al-Masirah television reported.
“The (rebel administration’s) foreign ministry was contacted to notify the UN and all international organisations that Sanaa airport was ready to receive flights.”
Yemen has been wracked by civil war since 2014 pitting the government — supported by the Saudi-led coalition — against the Iran-backed Huthis who control much of the north.
The UN, which has described the situation as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, estimates the conflict will have claimed 377,000 lives by the end of the year through both direct and indirect impacts.
More than 80 percent of Yemen’s population of about 30 million is dependent on humanitarian aid.
Flights into the rebel-held capital have been largely halted by a Saudi-led blockade since August 2016, but there have been exemptions for aid flights that are a key lifeline for the population.
The Huthi rebels had said UN aid flights into Sanaa had been halted by Saudi-led airstrikes last week, but the coalition said the airport had already been closed two days earlier and blamed the insurgents.
– ‘Worst for years‘ –
Coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki said Sunday the Huthis were “militarising” Sanaa airport and using it as a “main centre for launching ballistic missiles and drones” towards the kingdom.
He also accused Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah group of helping the Huthis launch missiles and drones at Saudi Arabia, where two people were killed last week.
On Saturday, the coalition launched what it called a “large-scale” military operation against the Huthis after the fatal rebel attack.
The coalition raids killed three civilians, including a child and a woman, Yemeni medics told AFP.
The coalition maintains its operations are carried out in accordance with international humanitarian law and has repeatedly accused the Huthis of using civilians as human shields.
UN special envoy Hans Grundberg said the uptick in fighting “undermines the prospects of reaching a sustainable political settlement to end the conflict in Yemen.”
“The escalation in recent weeks is among the worst we have seen in Yemen for years and the threat to civilian lives is increasing,” Grundberg said.
He renewed a longstanding UN call for Sanaa airport to reopen permanently for commercial as well as humanitarian flights.
“Any targeting of civilians and civilian objects as well as indiscriminate attacks by any actor is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and must stop immediately,” the UN envoy said.
– No guarantees –
Saudi Arabia has long accused Iran of supplying the Huthis with sophisticated weapons and its Hezbollah proxy of training the insurgents.
Tehran denies the charges, while Hezbollah on Monday dismissed Saudi charges as “ridiculous”.
On Tuesday, Tehran called for the formation of an inclusive government in Yemen, with Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian saying the crisis “has only a political solution”, according to Iran’s state news agency IRNA.
The US Navy said last week it seized 1,400 AK-47 rifles and ammunition from a fishing boat it claimed was smuggling weapons from Iran to the Huthis.
The Huthis on Tuesday accused the coalition of preventing the entry of “communication and navigation devices… into Sanaa airport to replace the old ones”.
“The UN and international organisations have been informed that the long-term operation of these devices are not guaranteed, given how old they are,” they added.
The rebels also warned they would “hold the UN and international organisations responsible for landing and takeoff operations in the event of a sudden device failure”.
While the UN and US are pushing for an end to the war, the Huthis have demanded an end to the coalition blockade of Sanaa airport before any ceasefire or negotiations.