x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Yemeni rebels hail humanitarian corridor plan

As UN aims to ensure safety of civilians and relief workers, militant video shows purported Saudi weapons seized from the military.

SANA'A // Yemen's rebel leader, Abdulmalik al Houthi, welcomed yesterday the United Nations' call for opening humanitarian corridors to northern Yemen that would allow civilians leave the conflict zone and aid workers deliver much needed supplies to thousands of displaced people.

Meanwhile three top rebel leaders were reported by the defence ministry to have been killed in fighting. "We welcome the UN call for establishing safe roads and humanitarian corridors to facilitate the movement of the relief workers and humanitarian aid," said Mr al Houthi in a statement e-mailed to local media. Commenting on Wednesday's speech by John Holmes, the UN under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, in which he spoke of the need for safe corridors, Mr al Houthi said: "We declare our complete approval and readiness to co-operate with the UN and other neutral relief organisations concerning the establishment of safe roads and humanitarian corridors and anything that would provide necessary protection for civilians."

The humanitarian situation of those displaced by the conflict, which has been going on for more than three weeks, is deteriorating dramatically, according to aid agencies. The UN called on Thursday for US$23.5 million (Dh86m) to feed and shelter a mounting number of poverty-wracked villagers displaced by the violence. The UN estimates that intensified combat, which began around Sa'ada city in July, has forced 55,000 highland villagers from their homes, adding to the 95,000 already displaced from previous bouts of fighting in the five-year-old conflict.

The rebel leader included in his e-mailed statement a video clip showing a cachet of weapons that he claimed were supplied to Yemen's army by Saudi Arabia. "This video clip shows Saudi support to the Yemeni regime in the war. This box is one of tens that were found with the 105 regiment in Maran, al Malahidh district," he said. However, the Yemeni defence ministry refuted the claim as "groundless". "It has become customary to repeat such trivialities, which are baseless and are meant to mislead public opinion and gain the sympathy of some particular regional forces," said a statement quoting an unidentified military source on the ministry's website, hinting at Tehran.

Yemen has accused the Iranian media of bias in favour of the rebels and warned it would respond, although it did not specify how. For their part, al Houthis and Iran's media have accused Saudi Arabia of sending its jets to shell rebel areas in Sa'ada. The source quoted in the ministry statement said three rebel leaders were killed in an operation on Thursday at their stronghold in al Malahidh, just south of Sa'ada: "Jarallah Mohammed Ismail, Ali Abduraboo Jabal and Abdulaziz al Arimi, who are dangerous terrorist elements, were killed in the pounding while the terrorist Hussien Yahia Hanash, on the list of the 55 wanted al Houthi rebel leaders, was injured in another area."

It was partly a result of the army improving its tactics in tackling the insurgents' guerrilla-style warfare, the source added. The source also said a number of rebel vehicles loaded with weapons and supplies were destroyed by the army while on their way to a rebel base in the Damaj area. Antiterrorism forces were also besieging a sleeper cell - rebels who pose as civilians in times of peace - of al Houthis inside the old city of Sa'ada, the source said, adding that the cell was using civilians as human shields. The rebels denied the claims.

malqadhi@thenational.ae