SANAA // International aid group Oxfam warned today that Yemen could soon face a serious humanitarian crisis after fighting escalated in August between government forces and rebels seeking autonomy in the far north. United Nations groups say about 150,000 people have been made refugees since the fighting first began in 2004, with thousands living in official and makeshift camps. The situation has worsened since Sanaa launched Operation Scorched Earth last month in an attempt to crush rebels of the Shiite Zaydi sect in Saada and Amran provinces.
"The conflict-driven emergency in Yemen could soon ignite into a full-blown humanitarian crisis unless immediate action is taken to stop the fighting," Oxfam said in a statement, asking for safe passage for refugees in the mountainous region. "The agency calls on all parties to the conflict to implement an immediate and lasting ceasefire to the fighting that started August 11, and for the international community to intervene diplomatically to that end," the statement said.
Last week dozens of civilians were reported dead in two army air raids, sparking condemnation from aid organisations and Yemeni rights groups. Media have had difficulty accessing the conflict zone and verifying conflicting reports from each side after various ceasefire offers from each side came to nothing. Yemeni state media reported dozens of deaths on the rebel side over the Eid al Fitr holiday this week.
The government says the rebels, referred to as Houthis after their clan leaders, want to restore a Shiite state that fell in the 1960s and accuse Shiite power Iran of maintaining contacts with them. The rebels say they want autonomy and accuse Saleh of despotism and corruption in a drive to stay in power, as well as introducing Sunni fundamentalism via his alliance with Riyadh. *Reuters