UN strug­gling to get aid into Ye­men

Saudi-led forces bomb rebel-held air­port, dam­age es­ti­mates vary

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - AHMED AL-HAJ SANAA, YE­MEN —

The Saudi-led mil­i­tary coali­tion fight­ing Ye­men’s Shi­ite rebels bombed the air­port in the rebel-held cap­i­tal, Sanaa, on Tues­day, Ye­meni of­fi­cials said, though there were con­flict­ing re­ports as to the ex­tent of the dam­age.

The United Na­tions said most of the air­port re­mained in­tact and that it would be able to re­ceive aid ship­ments once the coali­tion fol­lows through on its an­nounced loos­en­ing of the block­ade.

But Ye­meni of­fi­cials in Sanaa, which is held by the rebels known as Houthis, said the air­port’s run­way and a ground nav­i­ga­tion tower were dam­aged. Re­pair crews were at work, they added, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity as they were not au­tho­rized to talk.

Jamie McGoldrick, of the UN Of­fice for the Co­or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs, said UN staff had vis­ited the air­port and spo­ken with au­thor­i­ties there, and that its “run­way, taxi­way, ramp, ter­mi­nal and air traf­fic con­trol tower were not hit and are in good con­di­tion.”

“This will have no im­pact on our op­er­a­tions once they re­sume,” McGoldrick said in an email from Amman, Jor­dan.

The U.S.-backed coali­tion has been at war with the Houthis, since March 2015. The coali­tion closed all air, land and sea ports last week in re­sponse to a rebel bal­lis­tic mis­sile at­tack on Riyadh.

The coali­tion said Mon­day that it would re­open ports in ar­eas held by al­lied forces and loosen re­stric­tions it had tight­ened af­ter the fir­ing of the mis­sile, which was in­ter­cepted near Riyadh’s in­ter­na­tional air­port.

How­ever, McGoldrick said ear­lier in the day that there was “no in­di­ca­tion” the coali­tion was ac­tu­ally lift­ing the block­ade in line with its an­nounce­ment.

He said that coali­tion an­nounce­ments of the avail­abil­ity of two ports in South­ern Ye­men are “help­ful,” but that the key need is ac­cess to the rebel-held Red Sea ports of Salif and Hodeida, closer to large pop­u­la­tion cen­tres.

UN spokesper­son Stephane Du­jar­ric told re­porters at UN head­quar­ters in New York that with­out Sanaa air­port and Hodeida and Salif sea­ports fully func­tion­ing and able to re­ceive cargo, “the dire hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion will de­te­ri­o­rate fur­ther.”

He said UN hu­man­i­tar­ian of­fi­cials are warn­ing that “7 mil­lion peo­ple are al­ready on the brink of famine, and the block­ade will only bring them closer to it.”

Du­jar­ric said the UN refugee agency ex­pressed alarm at the wors­en­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion, not­ing that at a cen­tre for dis­placed Ye­me­nis in Sanaa “hun­dreds more peo­ple are ap­proach­ing the fa­cil­ity daily, say­ing they are no longer able to meet ba­sic needs or af­ford med­i­cal care.”

The agency re­ported that the clo­sure of Ye­men’s bor­der has halted the de­liv­ery of emer­gency as­sis­tance for nearly 280,000 in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple, and stranded some of its staff out­side the coun­try while oth­ers lack fuel for trans­port, he said.

The Is­lamic State group mean­while struck a fresh blow to Sau­di­al­lied forces in the coun­try’s south, where a sui­cide car bomb­ing early on Tues­day tar­geted se­cu­rity forces in the port city of Aden, killing at least six peo­ple and wound­ing scores.

The ISIL-claimed at­tack took place at a build­ing in the Sheikh Oth­man district in the cen­tral part of the city. Res­i­dents sev­eral kilo­me­tres away heard a large ex­plo­sion and saw thick black smoke ris­ing from the area. The at­tack caused panic in the densely pop­u­lated area, home to schools, mar­kets and street ven­dors.

Am­bu­lances rushed to the site, where the build­ing was badly dam­aged, and de­bris and body parts lit­tered the area.

Med­i­cal of­fi­cials said six sol­diers were killed, with the death toll ex­pected to rise. The of­fi­cials spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they weren’t au­tho­rized to speak to the me­dia.

The se­cu­rity build­ing is an op­er­a­tions cen­tre for the Se­cu­rity Belt, a par­al­lel body to the gov­ern­ment’s forces that is trained by the United Arab Emi­rates, a main pil­lar in the Saudi-led coali­tion that has backed Ye­meni Pres­i­dent Abed Rabbo Man­sour Hadi.

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