05/11/2015, 00.00
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Shia Houthi rebels ready to accept Saudi ceasefire proposal

Riyadh offers a five-day ceasefire to let in humanitarian aid. Saudi King Salman defends military operation, which he claims was prompted by a desire to stop threats from a "sectarian group". Over 70,000 civilians, including thousands of children, are fleeing rebel-held Sadaa. UN expressed concern over escalating violence.

Sana'a (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Houthi rebels have responded positively to five-day humanitarian ceasefire proposal by the Saudi-led coalition. For the past few weeks, the latter has carried out a military campaign in Yemen against the Iran-backed Shia rebels.

On Friday, Saudi Arabia offered the five-day ceasefire starting on Tuesday – to let in much needed food and medical supplies for the war-torn civilian population.

Aid agencies said 70,000 people, including 28,000 children, were fleeing Saada alone, which is under Houthi control.

The Saudi-led coalition, backed by Washington, wants to reinstate ousted President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, who fled the capital Sanaa last February after rebel Houthis seized the city.

On several occasions, the Saudis, who are Sunni Muslims, have accused Iran of arming Shia Houthi rebels, an accusation Tehran denies.

The Saudi King Salman defended his country’s military operation against Yemen rebels, saying that the coalition sought to “save Yemen and its brotherly people from a group entrenched with the spirit of sectarianism” that threatened regional peace and security.

The operation, Salman noted, has prevented Yemen from "becoming a theatre for terrorism, discord, and internal fighting, similar to some countries." 

However, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen Johannes van der Klaauw said he was deeply concerned with Saudi-led coalition raids in northern Yemen against Houthi rebels.

"The indiscriminate bombing of populated areas, with or without prior warning, is in contravention of international humanitarian law," the UN diplomat explained.

According to the Saudi-led coalition, Saada is a "military zone". On Friday, it dropped leaflets  warning residents to leave. But for van der Klaauw, "Many civilians are effectively trapped in Saada as they are unable to access transport because of the fuel shortage. The targeting of an entire governorate will put countless civilians at risk." Dropping leaflets will not absolve the Saudis of their responsibilities.

Coalition warplanes also struck the Sanaa residence of ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The former president – who is allied to the rebels – and his family are said to be unharmed.

Meanwhile, a ship chartered by the UN's World Food Programme docked in the western port of Hodeida, bringing fuel to boost aid deliveries. The MV Amsterdam brought 300,000 litres of fuel and supplies for humanitarian organisations.

Since January, Yemen has been the scene of a bloody internal conflict opposing the country’s Sunni rulers, backed by Saudi Arabia, and Shia Houthi rebels, supported by Iran.

Since March, the Saudi led-coalition has carried out air strikes against the rebels. According to UN figures, the conflict has killed at least 1,400 people injuring another 6,000 since 19 March.

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