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Lifting of Yemen aid blockade stymied by Saudi airport strike, port closure

A Yemeni man looks at a crater from Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, at the Sanaa International Airport, in Yemen, Wednesday, April 29, 2015.
AP Photo/Hani Mohammed
On Monday, Saudi Arabia's UN ambassador said the coalition would take steps to ease the blockade

Rebel authorities in Yemen said on Tuesday that a Saudi-led air strike had destroyed a navigation station at Sanaa international airport, which is critical to receiving already limited aid shipments to the war-ravaged state. 

The strike "led to the total destruction of the VOR/DME radio navigation system, taking it offline and thus halting the only flights at Sanaa airport -- those of the United Nations and other international organisations delivering humanitarian assistance," the rebel-run General Authority for Civil Aviation said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia and its allies tightened a longstanding blockade of Yemen's land, sea and air borders a week ago in response to a missile fired by the Iran-backed Huthis that was intercepted near Riyadh's international airport.

On Monday, Saudi Arabia's UN ambassador said the coalition would take steps to ease the blockade but would not reopen a key rebel-held port to aid shipments unless tighter inspections were put in place.

The United Nations insisted its aid operations need access to the ports of Hodeida and Saleef, saying that more than two-thirds of the people in need and 80 percent of all cholera cases are closest to the two ports.

Aden port, which is controlled by allies of Saudi Arabia, does not have the capacity, according to the UN, to handle the necessary volume of humanitarian cargo and would mean hazardous cross-line deliveries.

The UN has warned that an already catastrophic humanitarian crisis in Yemen was worsening each day that aid shipments remained blocked. 

The Yemen war has killed thousands and brought the impoverished country to the brink of famine, as the coalition continues to fight alongside the government against the Huthis and their ally, strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh.

'No time to wait'

MOHAMMED HUWAIS (AFP)

Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the UN Abdallah al-Mouallimi told reporters in New York on Monday that ports in government-controlled areas such as Aden, Mukalla and Mocha will be reopened, but demanded more rigorous checks at the Red Sea port of Hodeida.

The UN's aid coordinator in Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, said there was no time to wait for a new inspection system to be set up. 

"The humanitarian impact of what is happening here right now is unimaginable," he told reporters in Geneva in a phone conference. 

"I don't think discussions (on new inspections) should hamper the port remaining open", he added. 

"The humanitarian aspect of this is something we need to address immediately because we can't have those ports closed or those airports closed while we wait for discussions on new (inspection) mandates to go ahead."

McGoldrick underscored that UN aid was the main lifeline for most of Yemen's population, seven million of whom are at risk of famine. 

He said that a UN verification and inspection mechanism already in place could work with the Saudi-led coalition on implementing new procedures but that keeping ports closed in the interim was not viable. 

Stocks of diesel and petrol are running out in parts of Yemen because of the blockade, while the prices of basic goods have skyrocketed. 

The blockade "is complicating what is already a catastrophic situation", McGoldrick said. 

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