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UN Decries Civilian Toll of Yemen Fighting

by VOA News April 07, 2015

Saudi-led coalition jets bombed a military installation in southern Yemen Tuesday as local tribes battled with forces loyal to the Shi'ite rebels in the area, forcing them out and seizing their makeshift camp and weapons, military officials said.

The fighting in southern Ibb province comes as the United Nations children's agency (UNICEF) said about 100,000 people have been displaced in the conflict in Yemen, while children continue to be killed, maimed and at risk from disease.

UNICEF released a statement saying across Yemen, people have left their homes in search of a safer place to stay, putting increased pressure on hospitals and other services.

It said such internal displacement puts children's health at risk and interrupts their education. UNICEF has called for special attention and protection to these children and their families, in line with international humanitarian law.

Children killed

According to UNICEF, at least 74 children have also been killed since the fighting between Yemeni rivals intensified and the coalition airstrike campaign began two weeks ago.

A medical volunteer in the Maytam district in Ibb said the airstrike on a Republican Guards camp left at least 25 military men wounded. The military unit is loyal to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is allied with the Shi'ite rebels in their bid to grab power in Yemen.

Residents say the camp was close to a school. The rebel television station, known as al-Masirah, said three children were killed in the airstrike. The medical volunteer, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, could not verify the deaths.

About 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of the camp, local tribes battled with rebel fighters who had set up a makeshift camp in the area, driving the rebels away and seizing their weapons, a local resident said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

Civilians have paid a heavy toll for the violence that mushroomed from an internal power struggle into a regional war drawing in neighboring Saudi Arabia and its allies.

Children have been especially vulnerable, said Julien Harneis, UNICEF's Yemen representative.

'They are being killed, maimed and forced to flee their homes, their health threatened and their education interrupted,' Harneis said in a statement released Monday in Amman, Jordan. Warring factions have also increased their recruitment of children under the age of 18.

The agency said at least 74 children have been killed and 44 wounded since March 26, when the Saudi-led air campaign began.

Civilian casualties

According to the World Health Organization, more than 540 people have been killed and 1,700 wounded in the fighting in Yemen over the past three weeks. Comprehensive casualty figures are difficult to collect and verify because of the ongoing violence.

The fighting pits allies of the country's embattled president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, against the rebels known as Houthis and their allies - military units loyal to Hadi's predecessor, Saleh.

The Saudi-led military campaign, which supports Hadi, is in its 13th day, and has so far failed to stop the Houthis advance on Aden - Yemen's second-largest city, which was declared a provisional capital by Hadi before he fled the country.

Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren confirmed Tuesday the U.S. is looking to deliver munitions, including by accelerating pre-existing orders, to its allies involved in the air campaign in Yemen.

'It's a combination of pre-existing orders made by our partner nations and some new requirements as they expend munitions,' Warren said,

Warren also said the U.S. is watching 'very closely' reports that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula took control of a border crossing in Yemen's Hadramawt province, adding the U.S. is 'always concerned by AQAP's activities,' but 'we have the capability to conduct unilateral CT (counterterrorism) operations' in Yemen.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Tuesday its first flight transporting medical personnel to Yemen has reached the capital, Sana'a.

Dominik Stillhart, a senior Red Cross official, noted the arrival in a Twitter post Tuesday and said urgently needed medical supplies will arrive by air and sea when clearances are received.

The Red Cross said Monday it had not been able to deliver tons of medical supplies to Yemen. While the organization said it had approval from the Saudi-led coalition, logistical concerns about flying into the war-torn country were delaying the process.

Relief workers have warned of a dire situation in the impoverished country.

On Monday, the United States condemned what it called 'reprehensible attacks' on relief workers in Yemen and Syria on Friday, saying the attacks led the deaths of four more relief personnel.

Humanitarian groups say they are running out of supplies. They have called for a temporary halt to the fighting to allow medical teams and fresh medical supplies to arrive in the country and for residents to identify and bury their dead.

UNICEF said the violence has disrupted water supplies in areas of southern Yemen and that sewage is overflowing in some locations, raising the risk of disease outbreak. Water systems have been repeatedly damaged in Aden and two other areas, UNICEF said, adding that it is providing fuel for water pumps.

Hospitals struggle

Hospitals are struggling to treat large numbers of wounded with insufficient supplies and some medical facilities have come under attack, the agency said.

At least three health workers, including an ambulance driver, have been killed in attacks in Aden and another southern city.

On Monday, fighting intensified in Aden, with the rebels and their allies making their strongest push yet to seize control of the port city - a main stronghold of Hadi supporters. The clashes were so intense, many bodies were left in the streets.

The fighting raised doubts over the possibility of landing ground forces from the Saudi-led coalition to carve out a secure enclave for Hadi, who fled the country two weeks ago.

'Conditions are very dangerous right now,' UNICEF's Dr. Gamila Hibatullah in Aden was quoted as saying. 'Hospitals are overflowing, and even ambulances have been hijacked.'

'China is deeply worried'

On Tuesday, China's Foreign Ministry added its support to calls for a cease-fire in Yemen, after Russia and the Red Cross appealed for a military pause to allow humanitarian aid deliveries and the evacuation of civilians last week.

"China is deeply worried by the recent development of the situation in Yemen. We call on all relevant parties to quickly implement a ceasefire and avoid further civilian casualties,' the ministry's spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

'China also hopes that all relevant sides can earnestly implement relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions and Gulf Cooperation Council proposals and resolve the crisis through political dialog so as to quickly restore Yemen's stability and normal legal order," Hua said.

China, a low-key diplomatic player in the Middle East despite its reliance on oil from the region, had previously expressed concern at the upsurge in violence in Yemen and called for a political solution.

Jeff Seldin contributed to this report from the Pentagon. Some material in this report came from Reuters and AP.

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