Saudi Arabia is considering temporary halts in coalition air strikes against rebels in Yemen to allow for aid deliveries, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Monday.
The announcement came as clashes raged in southern Yemen between rebels and fighters allied with exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, killing at least 30 people.
The kingdom will consult members of the coalition on “finding specific areas inside Yemen… where all air operations will be paused at specific times to allow for the delivery of aid,” Jubeir said in a statement.
The Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Arab countries launched air strikes in Yemen in late March against Iran-backed Shiite Huthi rebels and their allies after they seized control of large parts of the country including the capital Sanaa.
Hadi fled Yemen as the rebels advanced on his southern refuge of Aden, and anti-government forces have refused to concede territory or down arms despite international pressure.
The United Nations has repeatedly warned that impoverished Yemen faces a major humanitarian crisis and calls have been growing for efforts to increase aid deliveries.
Jubeir said Saudi Arabia “plans to establish a centre on its territory to be in charge of coordinating all humanitarian aid efforts” with the UN, donors and other relevant agencies.
He warned the rebels against “taking advantage” of any pause in the bombing.
Saudi Arabia “will deal with any violations in connection with the suspension of air strikes or movements that hinder humanitarian efforts,” he said.
The United Nations has called for a humanitarian pause in the conflict, as relief agencies say they desperately need supplies, including fuel to run infrastructure such as hospitals.
It warned that key infrastructure in the war-torn country, including water supplies, health services and telecommunications, are on the verge of breaking down due to a major fuel shortage.
UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen Johannes van der Klaauw said on Saturday that an arms embargo was affecting delivery of supplies, urging a humanitarian pause “at least for a couple of days”.
– Clashes rage –
Russia proposed last week a draft statement at the UN Security Council calling for an immediate ceasefire or at least humanitarian pauses, and an urgent return to political negotiations, but it failed to win endorsement.
Russia’s diplomacy has been greeted with some suspicion given the country’s close ties to Iran, which is supporting the Huthis.
A US diplomat said Washington supports humanitarian pauses and was urging Saudi Arabia to take measures to ensure aid deliveries reach civilians trapped in the fighting.
At least 1,200 people have been killed in fighting in Yemen since March 19 and thousands more have been wounded, according to the UN. It estimates that at least 300,000 people have been displaced by the conflict.
On Monday, clashes between Huthis and southern fighters intensified in the city of Loder, the second larges city of the province of Abyan, witnesses said.
Five civilians and six southern fighters were killed in the fighting and intensive shelling, while dozens others were wounded, according to medics at Mahnaf hospital.
Sources among the southern fighters said that coalition airplanes dropped Monday military supplies to the local militia, including machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
In Lahj provincial capital Huta, heavy clashes left 19 people dead, including a three-year-old girl, as well as 13 rebels, according to a local official.