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YEMEN: As clashes escalate, humanitarian crisis unfolds

SANAA, 21 February 2007 (IRIN) - Residents of the northern province of Saada could soon face a humanitarian crisis as clashes between government forces and followers of the deceased radical Shia leader Hussein Badr Eddin al-Houthi have escalated over the few past days, officials have warned.

Dr Hamboush Hussein, deputy director of the Health Office in Saada, told IRIN that Saada’s hospitals were not sufficient to deal with a high number of casualties and were not equipped well enough to handle more complex cases.

“The hospitals in Saada province lack some medications and equipment in addition to specialised staff,” he said, adding that there are only two surgeons in Saada.

According to Hussein, the province has seven hospitals, with about 650 health workers. He added that the hospitals were in dire need of operating theatres and surgeons.

“The badly injured people will have to be sent to Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, or to the Saudi-run hospital in Saada, al-Saalm,” he said.

The three-year sporadic battles with al-Houthi followers have claimed the lives of 727 government forces and wounded 5,296, the government said. The al-Houthi group, currently led by the grandson of the founder, is accused by the government of inciting anti-US sentiment.

The clashes in Saada were re-ignited in late January after al-Houthi supporters threatened to kill members of a small Jewish community in Saada if they did not leave the country within 10 days.

Suppressing the rebellion

Violence escalated after parliament on 10 February authorised the government to suppress the rebellion. The consultative Shoura council has also called on the government to settle the sedition in Saada in a way that maintains security and stability.

“By this rebellion, al-Houthi [the grandson], the terrorist, and his group want to enter the country into the kiln of conflicts in the context of a plot that aims to rip the nation apart and serve the interests of foreign parties,” Abdul-Aziz Abdul-Ghani, Shoura Council Chairman, said.

The government has now cut all communication with the province and as a result, food prices have shot up.

Hashem Hassan, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told IRIN that about 200 people had fled their homes to escape the fighting. He said the ICRC was working closely with the Yemeni Red Crescent in Saada to offer displaced families tents, mattresses, other basic equipment and first-aid medication..

Hassan said his team faces difficulties gaining access to the most vulnerable because of the security situation.

Khalid al-Anesi, Executive Director of NGO the National Organisation for Defending Freedoms and Rights, said the clashes in Saada were impacting all areas of normal life, including education and agriculture, upon which most people depend on for their living in the province.

However, government officials have been underplaying the fighting in Saada, saying that it has not been extensive enough to warrant the region’s hospitals being put on alert.

“The war is taking place in the mountains. The rebels are fighting from their trenches in the mountains,” Salem al-Wehaishi, Deputy Governor of Saada, told IRIN.

On 16 February, the international rights organisation Amnesty International warned of a risk of grave human rights violations in Saada, calling on President Ali Abdullah Saleh to take all the necessary measures in accordance with international law to protect human rights in Saada.

“Dozens of people are reported to have been killed and at least 50 people have been detained since the clashes began at the end of January 2007,” Amnesty said.

In its letter to the president, Amnesty said it feared that continued clashes would lead to grave human rights violations, including unlawful killings by security forces, as a result of excessive use of force, in violation of international law.

With a population of some 700,000, according to a 2004 census, Saada governorate includes 15 districts stretching over 11,375 square kilometres.




Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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