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Saudi says Yemen rebels violating truce but vows ‘restraint’

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Armed fighters of the Shiite Huthi movement sit in a pick-up truck mounted with a machine-gun in southern Sanaa on April 21, 2015, close to a missile depot on Fajj Attan hill that was hit by Saudi-led coalition air strikes (AFP Photo/Mohammed Huwais)

Armed fighters of the Shiite Huthi movement sit in a pick-up truck mounted with a machine-gun in southern Sanaa on April 21, 2015, close to a missile depot on Fajj Attan hill that was hit by Saudi-led coalition air strikes (AFP Photo/Mohammed Huwais)

Saudi-led forces accused Yemen’s Huthi rebels of violating a ceasefire on Thursday but said they will abide by a five-day humanitarian truce that has allowed aid agencies to deliver relief supplies.

The humanitarian pause that began late Tuesday is the first break in the air war the Saudi-led coalition launched on March 26 in support of exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and has strong backing from Washington.

The coalition, in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, said the Iran-backed Shiite Huthi rebels had violated the truce 12 times, including with artillery and rocket attacks in several towns in the south.

Officials said rockets fired from the rebel-held north had also hit Saudi border areas on Wednesday and that there had been rebel troop movements in Yemen’s south.

Despite the alleged violations, the coalition pledged “its full commitment to the humanitarian truce and restraint”.

Residents said calm prevailed across most of the country Thursday except in three cities — Taez, Daleh and oil-rich Marib — where there were reports of intermittent exchanges of fire between rebel and pro-Hadi forces.

The alleged violations came despite a promise by the Huthis and their allies to abide by the ceasefire. Riyadh has warned it will punish any attempt to exploit the truce.

A US State Department spokesman said that while the truce was “broadly” holding, it had received some reports of clashes after the ceasefire began.

The Huthis, allied with army units loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, have taken control of large parts of Yemen including the capital Sanaa and were advancing on Hadi’s southern stronghold of Aden when Riyadh launched the air campaign.

More than 1,500 people have been killed since March in the air campaign and fighting between rebel forces and Hadi loyalists, according to the United Nations.

– Sanaa airport operational –

An aviation official said that operations at Sanaa airport, which has been repeatedly targeted in air raids, were “gradually returning” to normal after a plane arrived from Jordan on Wednesday with 150 passengers on board.

Another airport official said that two flights, from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the United Nations, landed in Sanaa on Thursday.

The weeks since the start of the air war have seen repeated warnings of a dire humanitarian crisis, with shortages of food, water, fuel and medical aid.

The UN’s food agency said Wednesday that the situation in Yemen had become “catastrophic”.

Dominique Burgeon, emergencies director at the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization, told AFP the problems civilians faced were “very serious and at the moment the country lacks everything”.

The government’s Sabanew.net agency quoted Riyadh-based Nadia Sakkaf, Yemen’s information minister and head of the country’s High Relief Committee, as saying that seven vessels carrying food supplies, medical aid and fuel had docked in Yemeni ports.

She said daily flights linking Yemen to Jordan and Egypt would continue until May 18 — when the truce is due to end.

Qatar and Kuwait said they will offer Yemen 120 and 40 tonnes of medical aid, respectively.

Saudi Arabia has offered its impoverished neighbour $540 million in aid and humanitarian operations.

Iran, which Saudi Arabia accuses of arming the rebels, has also said it is sending an aid ship to Yemen, prompting warnings from the government-in-exile.

Speaking from Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin said “all measures will be taken against the Iranian ship if it enters Yemeni territorial waters without permission” from the coalition, Sabanew.net reported.

Yassin said his government was also “considering severing diplomatic ties with Iran.”

The Pentagon said Tuesday it was tracking the aid ship, while the Iranian military has warned against any attempts to stop it.

But quoted by the official IRNA news agency, Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said Thursday that Tehran had coordinated with the United Nations.

“The required coordination has been done with relevant authorities in the UN for the docking of the ship carrying Iran’s humanitarian aid for Yemen,” he said.

The newly appointed UN envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, has been in Sanaa since Tuesday for talks on restarting a collapsed political dialogue.


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