Aden (AFP) – The U.N. Security Council began closed-door consultations Friday on the conflict in Yemen, where fuel shortages are threatening relief operations as Saudi-led air strikes enter a sixth week.
Russia requested the 15-member Council meet to at least clinch a humanitarian pause in the fighting, which U.N. agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) say is also putting hospitals at risk.
The latest strikes and clashes on the ground killed 47 people in Yemen’s second city of Aden, where the Red Cross also scrambled to evacuate staff and patients from a hospital when it became a front line.
And after a meeting in Riyadh, Gulf Arab foreign ministers rejected any moves to hold Yemen peace talks at a neutral venue, as sought by Saudi Arabia’s arch foe Iran.
The conflict escalated in March when a Saudi-led coalition launched strikes against Iran-backed Shiite rebels who overran much of the country, forcing President Abedrabbo Mansur Hadi to flee.
The bombing has virtually halted the delivery of humanitarian aid and fuel, with the ICRC describing the situation as “alarming” and UN chief Ban Ki-moon saying relief operations could stop “within days”.
“After a month of air strikes and fighting, Yemen’s health system is struggling to cope and there are severe shortages of essential items especially food and fuel,” said the ICRC.
The World Food Programme said it was halting its food distribution as most stocks of fuel were in rebel hands.
“Humanitarian operations will end within days unless fuel supplies are restored,” said Ban.
The World Health Organization said as of Monday 1,244 people had been killed in fighting in Yemen since March 19.
WHO receives its statistics from health facilities in Yemen, but since many people are unable to get to hospitals for treatment the real numbers are probably higher.
The International Organization for Migration said since mid-March more than 12,000 people have fled the violence in Yemen.
The Red Cross deplored the health care situation, with doctors saying they are under huge strain as supplies have dwindled.
“The surgical team from the ICRC and all local staff and patients were forced to evacuate Aden’s Al-Jumhurriya hospital when the building itself became a front line in the fighting,” it said.
The ICRC said hospitals should be spared.
“We are shocked by the lack of respect for the hospital, as a neutral health facility, by the fighting parties,” said its Yemen mission chief, Cedric Schweizer.
Doctors spoke of hardship.
“We are running out of diesel. Our ambulances can no longer transport patients. Only half of our staff can come to work as the hospital buses have stopped running,” said Issa Alzubh, head of Sanaa’s Al-Kuwait hospital.
A doctor in Aden, Adel al-Yafyi, said his hospital was now unable to care for ordinary patients as it was being flooded by those wounded in combat or air strikes.
The WHO said the collapse of access to health care had also fanned the spread of epidemic diseases, with 44 alerts of suspected outbreaks of diseases including measles, dengue fever and meningitis.
Alexey Zaytsev, spokesman for the Russian mission at the UN in New York, said Moscow called for the Security Council consultations “because the situation is very bad in Yemen”.
Last week, Riyadh announced a halt to the air war but since then it has kept up daily strikes.
Saudi King Salman and his son and Defence Minister Prince Mohammed have said repeatedly it will go on until the rebels concede.
Gulf foreign ministers on Thursday insisted UN-brokered talks must only take place in the Saudi kingdom.
Iran had proposed the talks be held at a neutral venue where the Huthi rebels could attend.
Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of arming the rebels.
Tehran denies this, but a confidential UN report seen by AFP gave support to the Saudi allegations.
According to the report, which was presented last week to the Security Council’s Iran sanctions committee, Tehran’s support for the Huthis goes back to 2009.
The Huthis, who swept across Sanaa last year from their northern stronghold, have long complained of marginalization and fought several wars with the government from 2004 to 2009.
Photo: Supporters of the Shiite Huthi movement brandish their weapons as they take part in a demonstration in Sanaa on May 1, 2015, against the Saudi-led military air campaign targeting Huthi rebels and their allies in Yemen. (©afp.com / Mohammed Huwais)