UN calls for $274m in aid to save Yemeni lives
SANAA // The United Nations is urging the world to provide US$274 million (Dh1bn) in aid to help save lives and protect some 7.5 million people affected by the escalating conflict in Yemen.
In a statement released on Friday, the UN said that along with its partners in Yemen it needs the funds to purchase medical supplies, safe drinking water, food assistance, emergency shelter and provide logistical support.
It came after UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate ceasefire in Yemen and began the hunt for a new peace envoy to the war-torn country.
Fighting between Shiite Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Yemen’s exiled president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi intensified in March and three weeks of Saudi-led airstrikes have so far failed to stop the rebels’ advance.
Yemen’s Al Qaeda branch seized heavy weaponry in the country’s south-east on Friday as they overran a key camp in eastern Mukalla, the capital of Hadramawt province, an official said. The gain consolidated the militants’ grip on the city.
Residents confirmed that the camp, belonging to the 27th Mechanised Brigade, had been seized “without resistance”.
Until Friday, the camp had remained loyal to Mr Hadi and was the only military site in the city not taken over by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
In Geneva on Friday, the UN’s humanitarian agency, OCHA, said that about 150,000 people had been displaced by the airstrikes and ground fighting – 50 per cent more than the previous UN estimate. Health facilities had reported 767 deaths from March 19 to April 13, almost certainly an underestimate, it said.
In addition, public water services were on the verge of collapse while many schools, hospitals and mosques had been damaged or destroyed.
Speaking in Washington on Thursday, Mr Ban said Yemen was “in flames”.
His remarks followed the resignation of his envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, a Moroccan-born career diplomat who lost the confidence of Saudi Arabia and its allies. They accused him of being duped by the rebels.
Mr Ban said he was in the process of finding a new envoy “who can be immediately deployed” to seek a political solution.
“The Saudis have assured me that they understand there must be a political process,” he said. “I call on all Yemenis to participate, and in good faith.”
Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, Iran, renewed its calls for dialogue on Friday and said its foreign minister had spoken to the UN chief overnight.
Meanwhile, Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Friday he would not leave the country, dismissing media reports that he was seeking a safe exit as Saudi Arabian warplanes bomb troops loyal to him and their Houthi militia allies.
The Iran-allied Houthis have formed an alliance of convenience with Mr Saleh, who is widely believed to be plotting behind the scenes to make a comeback on Yemen’s tumultuous political scene.
However, military sources say that some army units previously loyal to Mr Saleh have defected and now support Mr Hadi.
Saudi-owned Arabiya TV, citing a Gulf official, said representatives of Mr Saleh had visited Arab capitals and floated an initiative for him and his family to leave safely.
But on Friday, Mr Saleh scoffed at the report.
“I’m not the type who goes looking for a place to live in Jeddah, Paris or Europe. My country is my birthplace. The person who can say to Ali Abdullah Saleh ‘leave your country’ has not been and will not be born,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
On the ground in Yemen, military units protecting the Masila oilfields – the country’s largest – withdrew on Friday and handed over security to armed local tribes, the tribesmen and oil company employees said.
Saudi-led airstrikes also intensified, with bombings in the capital, Sanaa, and the city of Taez reaching their most intense levels since the campaign started last month, Yemeni security officials said.
Thick plumes of smoke rose high above Sanaa as weapons stores in the mountains overlooking the city exploded and burnt, while local residents continued to flee the violence, said the officials.
In Taez, Houthi fighters clashed with army units loyal to Mr Hadi, with tanks and heavy machine guns firing throughout the day and airstrikes hitting a military base of the Houthi-allied Republican Guard.
Airstrikes also continued in Saada, the Houthis’ northern stronghold, and Aden, the southern port city that the rebels have been trying to take for weeks in cooperation with forces loyal to Mr Saleh.
* Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse
Updated: April 17, 2015 04:00 AM