U.N. says fighting stops in Sanaa, Saleh funeral expected

GENEVA (Reuters) - Yemen’s capital Sanaa was quiet on Tuesday after five days of fighting that culminated in the death of ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and U.N. and Red Cross flights have landed at the airport, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

Street battles in the capital had stopped despite 25 air strikes overnight, U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Yemen Jamie McGoldrick said.

The funeral of Saleh was expected later on Tuesday. He was killed by his erstwhile Houthi allies on Monday, two days after announcing he was switching sides in the war to oppose them.

His family’s allies have battled the Houthis since last week, a dramatic turn in a conflict that had been largely stalemated for much of the past three years.

The United Nations says a food shortage caused by warring parties blocking supplies has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Millions of people could die in one of the worst famines of modern times.

“People are now emerging from their houses after five days being locked down basically as prisoners,” McGoldrick told a regular U.N. briefing, speaking by phone from Sanaa.

“They are now seeking safety, moving their families in case things erupt again and at the same time seeking medical treatment and trying to pacify very terrified kids who have endured five days of relentless shelling, shooting and ground fire and air strikes.”

The air strikes overnight struck government buildings, palaces and bridges, and people were now bracing themselves in case of more fighting or air strikes, McGoldrick said, describing the situation as “very uncertain times”.

“We know the Saudi-led coalition has sent some messages to the people in Sanaa to stay away from Houthi installations for fear of air strikes, so we are trying to wait and see when things become slightly more clear and we can move around more freely.”

A Saudi-led military coalition has been fighting on behalf of a government based in the south against the Houthis, a Shi’ite movement backed by Iran that had teamed up with Saleh and controlled much of the country including the capital.

So far about 125 people are known to have died in the latest fighting in the capital with 200 injured, but aid workers are likely to have a better idea of the death toll later on Tuesday, McGoldrick said.

McGoldrick had no details of Saleh’s funeral later on Tuesday and did not know if it would coincide or clash with an event planned by the Houthis to celebrate his killing. He said there had been a report that there would be a ceremony around the main mosque, and the U.N. mission should avoid the area because of traffic.

Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Peter Graff