U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned Thursday that Saudi Arabian air strikes and combat between Yemen’s warring sides that target civilian and United Nations facilities are having a devastating effect on humanitarian aid efforts and are in violation of the laws of war.
In a statement, Ban said the attacks included bombardment of hospitals, humanitarian warehouses and U.N. compounds, and that civilians in Aden, Yemen’s second largest city, had been targeted by snipers. He called the attacks “unacceptable and in violation of international humanitarian law.”
U.N. officials have cited the air campaign and fighting between Houthi rebels and supporters of the government of exiled Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in statements denouncing the growing civilian toll. But they’ve been particularly critical of the Saudi air strikes, which they say have all but halted any effort to evacuate civilians by air or deliver humanitarian aid. The United States is providing aerial refueling and intelligence to the Saudi-led campaign.
On Thursday, Ban said more than 1,200 people have been killed in the past six weeks of fighting and that 300,000 have fled their homes.
The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said that it had counted at least 592 civilians among the dead as of Tuesday, of which 40 were women and 118 were children.
Ban’s statement came one day after he met in Paris with the chiefs of U.N. agencies responsible for delivering aid to civilians caught in the conflict.
“The violence has severely blocked shipments of food, fuel and health care,” the statement said. “All airports are closed to civilian traffic – some have come under direct attack – and naval shipments are being delayed. Yemen’s health, water and sanitation systems and telecommunications services are on the brink of collapse. Humanitarian operations will end within days unless fuel supplies are restored.”
Also on Thursday, the U.N.’s World Food Program warned that a blockade of the country’s ports had created “a severe fuel shortage” that “is threatening the delivery of lifesaving assistance to Yemeni civilians.” It said its delivery of emergency food rations to 700,000 people in seven of Yemen’s governorates was in danger of halting completely.
“We are reaching a point where we can no longer continue to move food from our warehouses to the people who desperately need it,” said Purnima Kashyap, the WFP’s Yemen country director.
International aid agencies continue to report rising casualties in the fighting. On Tuesday, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said air strikes had hit military bases in several locations as well as what it described as a vocational institute. Air strikes on Aden, the agency said, targeted the Ministry of Finance and damaged nearby residential buildings, “killing an unknown number of civilians.
The agency also reported that on Monday, “militants entered Al Jumhouria Hospital, the main hospital in Aden, and started shooting. Patients and doctors fled the attack, but the militants reportedly took some people who were receiving medical treatment.”
A surgical team from the International Committee of the Red Cross was forced to evacuate.
“We are shocked by the lack of respect for the hospital, as a neutral health facility, by the fighting parties,” the head of the ICRC delegation in Yemen, Cedric Schweizer, said.
(Zarocostas is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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