July 2, 2015 / 6:11 PM / 4 years ago

U.N. aiming for pause in Yemen fighting for humanitarian relief

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations has alerted aid groups to be prepared for a possible humanitarian pause in fighting in Yemen, starting as early as Friday, that would allow them to deliver assistance to some of the 21 million people in need.

Aid packages from relief agencies are unloaded at Sanaa International Airport, May 16, 2015. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

A Saudi Arabia-led coalition of Arab states has been bombing the Iranian-allied Houthi rebel movement since late March in a bid to restore to power Yemen’s elected president, who is backed by neighboring Saudi Arabia and has fled to Riyadh.

A senior U.N. aid official in Yemen wrote in an email to aid groups, sent on Wednesday and seen by Reuters, that U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon “is calling for the pause to start as soon as this Friday, 3 July.” U.N. special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is currently in Jeddah to meet with Saudi officials, the U.N. said.

Yemen relies on imports but a near total blockade led by Saudi Arabia has slowed shipments to the war-torn Arabian Peninsula country to a trickle. The Arab coalition is inspecting shipments in a bid to thwart any arms deliveries to the Houthis.

“The Secretary-General is doing all he can to advocate for a humanitarian pause during Ramadan, to allow humanitarian actors to scale up their efforts in providing much needed assistance across the country,” the official wrote.

The United Nations on Wednesday raised Yemen to its highest level humanitarian crisis, placing it alongside emergencies in South Sudan, Syria and Iraq. More than 80 percent of Yemenis need help in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country.

“The pause will hopefully be an opportunity to provide essential services and pre-position and distribute critical humanitarian supplies that are currently in country and in our pipelines,” the U.N. official wrote in the email.

Ban said in a statement released late Wednesday that some 3,000 people had been killed in the past three months, half of them civilians, and more than 14,000 injured. Outbreaks of dengue fever and malaria were also raging unchecked, he said.

Nationwide fuel shortages have spread disease and suffering in arid Yemen, where access to water usually depends on fuel-powered pumps, the United Nations has said. Hospitals are also struggling to operate without fuel.

Saudi-led air strikes killed eight people on Thursday in Yemen’s capital Sanaa, residents and a news agency reported.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Andrew Hay

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