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Russia, Red Cross Urge Humanitarian Pause in Yemen Fighting

  • VOA News

FILE – People run for cover amid gunfire at an army base in Aden, Yemen, March 25, 2015. The U.N. Security Council is meeting to discuss a humanitarian pause in fighting against Houthi rebels.

FILE – People run for cover amid gunfire at an army base in Aden, Yemen, March 25, 2015. The U.N. Security Council is meeting to discuss a humanitarian pause in fighting against Houthi rebels.

Russia and the Red Cross are calling on Saudi Arabia to pause its military campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen to allow for safe deliveries of civilian aid and the evacuation of foreigners.

The Russian plea came Saturday during an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council called by Moscow. A Russian draft proposal demands "regular and obligatory" pauses in airstrikes by the Saudi-led Sunni coalition battling Shi'ite rebels.

In Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross also called for an immediate break in hostilities, saying its aid shipments were being blocked.

Houthi rebels are battling to take control of Aden, Yemen.

Houthi rebels are battling to take control of Aden, Yemen.

Jordan's U.N. ambassador, Dina Kawar, speaking in her role as this month’s council president, said council members hope to reach a decision on the Russian-backed resolution by Monday.

Saudi Arabia has been leading an Arab coalition that has been carrying out airstrikes across the country for more than a week to try to halt the advance of Houthi Shi'ite rebels, who've taken over large parts of Yemen. Raids continued Saturday, targeting rebel positions in Sana'a, the capital.

At the United Nations, Russia's deputy ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov, said a pause in the military action would help ensure safe evacuations of diplomats and civilians trying to escape the Yemen conflict.

Britain's deputy U.N. ambassador, Peter Wilson, voiced regret for civilian casualties, but said Britain continues to support the Arab coalition. The airstrikes against the Houthi rebels began, he said, in response to "a legitimate request" from President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was driven from power in January and fled from Yemen last week.

"We got to this position because the Houthis, over and over again, violated cease-fires, took military action, took action by force instead of engaging in a genuine way in political talks," Wilson said. "The only way out of this crisis is through a return to genuine political talks on an equal basis, and not using force."

Red Cross aid readied

In Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross said three shipments of aid and medical staff it is trying to send to Yemen were still being blocked despite appeals to the coalition, which controls Yemeni airspace and ports.

The Red Cross also said the conflict is cutting off vital services. It noted that residents of Yemen's main southern city of Aden told it on Saturday that some areas had been without water or electricity for two days.

But there are hopeful signs the humanitarian pause will go into effect, Sitara Jabeen, ICRC spokeswoman for the Near and Middle East, told VOA.

The organization is awaiting the green light to go ahead with the operation, Jabeen said. It has "more than 48 tons of medical supplies that we want to send to the country, because this is what the hospitals need the most right now. Then we have a four-member surgical team that we want to bring to Aden … because the local hospitals are inundated with patients.”

Situation considered dire

The Red Cross described the situation in Yemen as dire. It said that much of the country was running low on lifesaving medicines and equipment and that people in some parts of the country were suffering from fuel, food and water shortages.

Jabeen said the 48 tons of medicine and surgical kits would be enough to treat 2,000 to 3,000 people. The ICRC also is ready to send tents, generators and supplies to repair the damaged water network, she said, adding that planes in Jordan and Geneva are ready to leave for Yemen as soon as they get formal clearance.

U.N. data show 519 people have been killed and nearly 1,700 have been wounded in Yemen during the last two weeks, but it is not clear how many fighters are on those lists.

Americans warned not to visit

On Saturday, the U.S. State Department warned Americans not to travel to Yemen, saying "terrorist activities and civil unrest" pose a severe threat to visitors' security.

Yemen borders Saudi Arabia and lies at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, overlooking the narrow Bab el-Mandeb strait used by all sea traffic transiting the Red Sea.

Aden, the last remaining stronghold of supporters of internationally backed Hadi, is a key port city where Houthi fighters and their allies have been battling Hadi loyalists for control.

Aden residents said Friday that the Houthis had withdrawn from one of Hadi's palaces, a day after seizing it.

Aden’s capture would mark a major setback for the Saudi-led coalition.

Lisa Schlein contributed to this report from Geneva.

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