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Anti-Houthi fighters stand near a tank in Yemen's southern port city of Aden on Saturday. A U.N. envoy on Sunday called for the cease-fire in the war-torn country to be extended, but the truce expired. (Photo: Reuters)

Ignoring Humanitarian Crisis, Saudi-led Bombing of Yemen Resumes

Calls by aid agencies and UN envoy for an extension are rebuffed as humanitarian crisis grips war-torn and poverty-stricken nation

Jon Queally

Despite desperate pleas from the United Nations and aid agencies that a humanitarian ceasefire be extended, the Saudi-led military assault on Yemen resumed late on Sunday after only five days of a tenuous truce that began last Tuesday.

Citing eye witness accounts by local residents, Reuters reports that airstrikes by Saudi-led forces began sometime after the ceasefire ended at 11 pm:

Yemen's foreign minister told Reuters the Saudi-led coalition had decided not to renew the truce because the agreement had been repeatedly broken by the Houthis. The rebels were not immediately available for comment.

"That's what we said before -- that if they start again, we will start again," said Reyad Yassin Abdullah from Yemen's exiled government in Riyadh. The coalition was not considering any new ceasefire," he added.

Bombings struck the rebel-held presidential palace in Aden, groups of militiamen on the western and eastern approaches to the city as well as the international airport where Houthis and local fighters have been clashing, said residents.

There was no word on any casualties.

Speaking from weekend talks that took place in Riyadh, UN envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed on Sunday called for an extension of the pause in fighting. "I call on all parties to renew their commitment to this truce for five more days at least," Ahmed said. "This humanitarian truce should turn into a permanent ceasefire."

UNICEF, meanwhile, said its relief operations during the five-day lull in fighting were mildly successful, but joined Ahmed in a call to extend the official cease-fire.

"During the pause, UNICEF was able to deliver assistance to affected people across the country, however humanitarian assistance cannot replace the needs of 26 million people who have been cut off from a regular supply of commercial imports of food and fuel," said Julien Harneis, UNICEF Yemen’s Representative, speaking from the capital city of Sanaa. "Hundreds of adults and children have already died during this conflict, many of whom could have been saved had we got supplies to them on time. We need to do everything we can to prevent any more of these unnecessary deaths."

UNICEF reiterated its demand that all parties to the conflict live up to their commitment to protect civilians, civilian infrastructure, and humanitarian workers, and allow regular commercial imports of fuel and food to enter the country in order to prevent further deaths.

Last week, Oxfam International, also conducting relief operations in the country, made it clear that five days was simply not enough time for aid agencies to deliver the kind of relief necessary. "Life in Yemen is intolerable at the moment," said Grace Ommer, country director for Oxfam in Yemen. "If the violence doesn’t get you, you still face a struggle to survive. Over 300,000 people have fled their homes – including many of our staff who are assisting their fellow displaced Yemenis."

What Yemen urgently needs, Ommer continued, "is a permanent ceasefire, one that lets food, fuel, and medical supplies in sufficient quantities to meet the growing needs of the people."

Speaking with the New York Times on Sunday, André Heller Pérache, of Doctors Without Borders in Yemen, said the brief ceasefire did little to alleviate the devastating shortage of fuel and other much-needed supplies in the country. "Hospitals are still scrambling to find fuel for generators," he said, and without fuel for cars, people are struggling to reach hospitals. "The capital city is dark at night."

Reporting by the Wall Street Journal indicates that with renewed bombing by Saudi Arabia and their allies into Monday morning, the fighting on the ground is likely to intensify. According to WSJ:

The expiration raised the possibility of more fighting on the ground. Houthi militants continued to clash sporadically with Saudi-supported forces during the cease-fire, including in the southern cities of Aden and Taiz.

Hussein Al Bukhaiti, a pro-Houthi activist, said if Saudi Arabia continued its bombardment of areas in northern Yemen near the Saudi border, the Houthis would intensify their retaliation.

"If the aggression increases, Ansar Allah will declare war on Saudi Arabia," he said, using another name for the Houthis.

Offering a brief backgrounder on the situation in Yemen, CNN reports:

In the conflict, Shiite Muslim rebels from the north of the country, known as Houthis, are clashing with forces loyal to President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, whom the Houthis ousted earlier this year.

A coalition of Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia is backing Hadi and has been carrying out a campaign of airstrikes on the Houthis and their allies since late March.

Complicating the picture, the Houthis have support from some Yemeni military units that remain loyal to Hadi's predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Saudi Arabia fears that Houthi control of Yemen would strengthen the hand of its bitter regional opponent, Iran. But the exact nature of the links between the Houthis and the Iranian regime are unclear.

Yemen is also the stronghold of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has taken advantage of the increased unrest to try to expand its reach.

Talks on the conflict, called for by Hadi, were scheduled to take place Sunday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. But the Houthis and Saleh weren't expected to attend, making it uncertain what progress could be achieved. Hadi is currently in exile in Saudi Arabia.

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