Russia calls for pause in Yemen air strikes

Russia calls for pause in Yemen air strikes
Houthis advance on Aden as air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition bombarded rebel positions around Yemen, with Russia calling for 'humanitarian pause' in violence.
4 min read
05 April, 2015
A boy stands in front of a destroyed house hit by an airstrike. [AFP/Getty]

Yemeni Houthi rebels captured the provincial government headquarters in Aden on Sunday, pushing into new areas of the battleground southern city despite a Saudi-led air campaign, a local official said.  

The rebel forces advanced during the night to reach the central district of Mualla where they took the local seat of government including the governor's office, said the official, who did not want to be named.  

The advancing militia, allied with rebel army units, bombarded residential areas, setting fire to several buildings and damaging others, witnesses said.   

Residents reported casualties and said dozens of families had fled their homes in the port city, the heart of which sits on an extinct volcano jutting out into the sea. 

The rebel forces advanced to near the port of Mualla, which is defended by militiamen of "popular committees" loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who has fled to neighbouring Saudi Arabia.  

"Snipers, who took position on the roofs of provincial government buildings, targeted passersby and members of the popular committees," pro-Hadi fighter Khalid Bashaea told AFP. 

The Houthis overran the capital Sanaa in September and launched a power takeover in February, prompting Hadi to take refuge in Aden. 

He left for Saudi Arabia last month as the Houthis and allied army units loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh approached Aden, among the last footholds of Hadi supporters.  

The Houthis seized the presidential palace in Aden on Thursday but soon retreated after air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition, which has been bombarding rebel positions around the country for the past 11 days.  

The coalition has also airdropped weapons to pro-Hadi fighters in the southern city.  

Civilans bear brunt of violence

The fierce fighting has left at least 185 dead and 1,282 wounded from the fighting have been counted in hospitals in Aden since March 26, the city's health department director Al-Kheder Lassouar said.  

Three-quarters were civilians, he added.  

The toll does not include victims among the Shia rebels and their allies who do not take their casualties to public hospitals, he said.  

It also excludes victims of Saudi-led air raids that have been pounding rebel positions around the country he added.   

Lassouar called on international organisations and Arab states participating in the coalition to provide emergency medical assistance to hospitals in Aden.   

"Medicine stocks are exhausted and hospitals can no longer cope with the increasing number of victims," he said.  

The United Nations said on Thursday that 519 people had been killed and nearly 1,700 injured in two weeks of fighting around the country.  

Hospitals treating the wounded are running short of medicines and the streets of the southern city of Aden are strewn with bodies, the International Committee of the Red Cross said, calling for "an immediate halt to the fighting".  

It added that food stocks are running low and there are fuel and water shortages.  

The air strikes and fighting on the ground have made civilians very vulnerable, the aid group Action Against Hunger said on Saturday.  

"There are now tens of thousands of people fleeing the conflict zones who find themselves on the road or taking refuge in villages," the Paris-based group said in a statement.  

The Saudi-led military coalition said that aid will be allowed into Yemen only when conditions are right, after the Red Cross urged a 24-hour ceasefire to address "dire" conditions on the ground.  

"The humanitarian operation is part of our job, part of our responsibility," Brigadier General Ahmed Assiri told reporters.  

Assiri said Russia, India, Indonesia, Algeria and Pakistan have aready taken out their citizens.  China, Djibouti, Egypt and Sudan, along with two aid groups, are scheduled to conduct evacuations Sunday while requests from others including Canada, Germany and Iraq are being processed, he said.   

Russia pushes UN resolution

Russia, meanwhile, presented a draft resolution to the UN Security Council calling for a humanitarian pause in the air campaign to allow for the evacuation of foreigners, diplomats said.   

The measure would demand "regular and obligatory humanitarian pauses in the air strikes... to allow all concerned states and international organisations to evacuate their citizens and personnel from Yemen," the draft text said.   

Russian Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov told reporters the pause would ensure that "when we evacuate people, to make sure it's secure and safe." 

The one-page text distributed to the council called on the Saudi-led coalition to halt air strikes to allow the evacuation of foreigners, but it did not specify the duration of the pause.  

The coalition says it has no plans for now to deploy ground forces in Yemen. 

But Saudi Arabia's army and naval special forces have carried out specific operations, a Saudi adviser said, without revealing if they had actually set foot on the ground.  

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whose country is participating in the coalition, said securing the Bab al-Mandab access to the Red Sea off Yemen's coast is a top priority.  

And the Saudi adviser said special forces were also involved in operations against Houthi units on Myun Island in the strait, through which much of the world's maritime trade passes.  

Yemen is the scene of the latest proxy struggle playing out between Middle East powers, after Syria and Iraq.  

Iran has accused Saudi Arabia of sowing instability in the region.