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Saudi-led coalition calls on U.N. to run main Yemen airport

FILE PHOTO: Police troopers patrol outside the at Sanaa airport, Yemen February 27, 2017. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

DUBAI (Reuters) - The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen requested on Thursday that the U.N. take control of the country’s main airport in the capital Sanaa in territory run by their enemies in the armed Houthi movement, state news agency SPA reported.

Fifteen aid groups called on warring parties in Yemen to reopen the airport on Wednesday, saying a year-long closure was hindering aid and preventing thousands of patients from flying abroad for life-saving treatment.

Spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said the coalition aimed to prevent arms shipments from reaching the Houthis by air but worked to ensure the delivery of commercial, cargo and humanitarian flights into the country.

In a statement titled “Official Coalition Spokesman Asks UN to Run Sana’a International Airport” al-Malki said the alliance could allow Sanaa flights to resume.

“Should airport management and security be conducted properly, ensuring the safety of all inbound flights and stopping arms smuggling, Joint Forces Command is prepared to restore normal flight activity,” he said.

Yemen has been torn apart by a civil war in which the internationally recognized government, supported by the coalition, seeks to push back gains made by the Iran-aligned Houthi group.

The Houthis control most of the north while the Saudi-led coalition controls the airspace. Any reopening would need an agreement between the two sides, who blame each other for Yemen’s humanitarian disaster - one of the world’s worst.

Hunger and disease have been unleashed by the two-year-old conflict, and the U.N. estimates 10,000 people have been killed.

Reporting by Noah Browning; Editing by Andrew Bolton