Death toll mounts in Yemen's war

Death toll mounts in Yemen's war
The World Health Organization says that over 1000 had been confirmed killed in Yemen since March 19, with the UN warning that fuel shortages threaten to halt all relief operations.
3 min read
Civilians search for bodies in the rubble after a Saudi airstrike on Thursday night [AFP/Getty]

Nearly 1,250 people have died so far in over a month of fighting that has devastated Yemen, according to World Health Organization figures released on Friday.

The UN's health agency described a "deteriorating" humanitarian situation in the country, where it said fighting and airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition have killed 1,244 people and injured 5,044 as of April 27.

In Taez, 19 people were killed and 91 injured on April 26 alone, when the local Al-Thawra hospital was hit, WHO said.

UN humanitarian operations in Yemen could end within days

The UN agency also warned Friday that most roads connecting Sanaa to the governorates of Aden, Taez, Al-Dhaale, and Lahj were "becoming gradually inaccessible, making the delivery of life-saving medicines a serious challenge."

It said it had received 44 alerts of suspected disease outbreaks, including measles, dengue fever and meningitis.

Electricity cuts, severe shortages of medicines and lack of health staff were also reported in areas where the violence was raging, and shortages of safe water were becoming acute across much of the country, it said.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said the lack of fuel was preventing agencies on the ground from distributing even those stocks already inside the country, most of which are in the hands of rebels who are under a UN arms embargo.

"Humanitarian operations will end within days unless fuel supplies are restored," Ban said. The UN evacuated its international staff in late March after fighting crippled Sanaa airport.

He called for an "immediate resumption of fuel imports to avoid making the already catastrophic humanitarian situation in Yemen even worse."

Insecurity on the roads adds to the severe difficulties aid agencies face in accessing large parts of the country, while poorly equipped emergency medical units have been overwhelmed with casualties.

The fighting shows no sign of letting up. Houthi forces attacked border posts and control points on the border with Saudi Arabia's Najran province on Thursday night, prompting a counter-attack by Saudi fighters and air force fighter jets, according to a Saudi Defence Ministry statement. The fighting, the biggest Houthi attack on  Saudi soil since the start of the conflict, left three Saudi soldiers and "dozens" of Yemeni rebels dead, said the statement.

Despite more than a month of airstrikes, the Saudi-led campaign in support of Yemen's exiled President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi has largely failed to halt the Houthis' advance into southern Yemen. However the Saudi government claims its coalition campaign has destroyed much of the rebel stockpile of missiles and heavy weapons.

A group claiming to be the Yemeni division of Islamic State (IS) released a video on Thursday showing the murder of four soldiers by beheading and a further eleven by gunshot.

The United Nations estimates than more than 500 Yemeni civilians, including more than 100 children, have been killed by airstrikes and violence. Hadi's government puts the civilian death toll at more than 1000.

Gulf Arab states rejected any neutral venue for UN-brokered peace talks as a confidential UN report seen by AFP supported their allegations that regional rival Tehran had been arming Yemen's Huthi Shiite rebels since 2009.

Yemen was the poorest Arab country even before the Houthis escalated their rebellion against now-exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi last year. UN agencies said Thursday that millions were at risk from any halt to food distributions. Gulf foreign ministers on Thursday rejected any venue for the UN talks except Riyadh, a venue the Houthis would inevitably reject.

With reporting by Associated Press, Agence France Presse