Street battles endangering Yemeni civilians – U.N.

Source: Reuters

* Fighters show “utter disregard” for civilians * U.N. refugee agency aims to send aid through Saudi Arabia GENEVA, Sept 8 (Reuters) – Street battles in northern Yemen are putting civilians at dangerous risk, and women, children and babies are forced to flee along mined roads, the United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday. The UNHCR also said it awaited security clearances to open a humanitarian corridor from Saudi Arabia into the border area on the Yemen side, where more than 2,000 displaced people are in dire need of tents and other aid. On Sunday, Shi’ite Muslim rebels denied the Yemeni government accusations that they had broken a truce and said authorities were using humanitarian issues as a pretext to press ahead with attacks against them in the north. “Heavy fighting between Al Houthi forces and government troops in and around Saada city in northern Yemen continues with utter disregard for the safety and well being of the civilian population,” Andrej Mahecic, spokesman of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news briefing. The city is cut off by fighting, and residents lack water and electricity and food supplies are running out, he said. Street battles continue to rage on in several neighbourhoods of Saada and the old part of the city, he said. “Most of the displaced are stranded and dangerously exposed to the fighting as they are unable to reach safer areas. “Mines and unexploded ordnance on the roads increase the risks for those trying to flee the area,” Mahecic said. People fleeing the Al Malaheet area just southwest of Saada city have reported that it has become a battleground, he said. Those arriving at Mazraq camp in Hajjah province were exhausted. “Some had walked through the desert for five days before reaching the camp, spending nights under trees as there was no other shelter. The majority of the displaced are women carrying hungry infants and crying babies,” Mahecic said. Clashes had also spread to Harf Sufyan in Amran province, to the south of Saada, forcing a new wave of displaced, he said. In all, some 150,000 have been uprooted by fighting in Yemen, including sporadic bouts in recent years, the U.N. says. The U.N. human rights office voiced concern that a large number of civilians are caught in a war zone in Yemen and urged both sides to prevent civilian casualties. The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said humanitarian agencies still had no access to most of the displaced and many more still trapped in the conflict area. Some 55,000 primary-school age children among the displaced are bearing the brunt of the conflict, it said in a statement. “The children of Yemen need urgent assistance. We cannot fail them,” said Sigrid Kaag, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)
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