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US, Saudis Seek 'Pause' in Yemen Fighting

by Pamela Dockins May 07, 2015

U.S. and Saudi officials have agreed to pursue a humanitarian pause in Yemen, where fighting by Shi'ite Houthi rebels has forced thousands of people to flee the country.

At a news conference in Riyadh Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry and his Saudi counterpart, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, said efforts were underway to forge a five-day cease-fire in Yemen to send in humanitarian aid.

They said the cease-fire would be renewable, depending on the conditions on the ground.

Al-Jubeir said there had been no initial contact with the Houthis, who are believed to receive support from Iran, on whether they would support a cease-fire.

Kerry added, "We strongly urge the Houthis and those who back them – whom we suggest use all their influence – not to miss this major opportunity to address the needs of the Yemeni people and find a peaceful way forward in Yemen.'

Kerry said the humanitarian pause would mean 'no bombing, no shooting' and no repositioning of troops

Everywhere or nowhere

Al-Jubeir urged the Houthi rebels to halt attacks as well, saying: 'There will be a cease-fire everywhere or a cease-fire nowhere.'

He added that he hoped the Houthis would care enough about the Yemeni people to support the plan.

The Saudi foreign minister also said more details would be announced within the coming days about the proposed pause, which would affect all of Yemen.

Earlier this week, Yemen's U.N ambassador sent a letter to the Security Council, urging the international community to "quickly intervene" with ground forces in Yemen.

Asked about the request, Kerry said neither the U.S. nor Saudi Arabia had been talking about sending in ground troops.

On Wednesday, Kerry said the U.S. would provide another $68 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemen. The money will be used to provide food, water, shelter, medical care and other aid.

Kerry announced the new aid from Djibouti, a country that has hosted Americans and other foreigners fleeing Yemen's unrest.

The State Department said the money would help humanitarian organizations, which have been hampered by fuel shortages in the country, meet the needs of nearly 16 million people in Yemen affected by the country's crisis, including about 300,000 who have been internally displaced.

​​Saudi Arabia will provide $274 million in new assistance, al-Jubeir said Thursday.

The United Nations said about 650 civilians have been killed in Yemen's unrest and thousands have fled from Yemen.

Despite the airstrikes, the Houthis and forces loyal to a former President Ali Abdullah Saleh have remained entrenched in areas they seized earlier this year and on Wednesday took an important district in Aden.

Earlier Thursday, Kerry met separately with Saudi King Salman and Yemen's exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who fled to Saudi Arabia for his own safety.

Kerry and the Yemeni leader met at the ornate Al-Nasarieh Guest Palace.

After exchanging greetings, Hadi said, "Hopefully, we will see you in Sana'a soon."

"Aaah," said Kerry, "there is some work to do."

Hadi has denounced what he called a "coup" by Houthi rebels, who occupied Sana'a last year and later placed him under house arrest. In February, Hadi fled to the southern port of Aden and then to Saudi Arabia.

Civilian deaths alleged

The cease-fire proposal comes as the Yemeni government and human rights groups condemn what they called dozens of civilian deaths at the hands of Houthi rebels.

Yemen's mission to the United Nations released a statement Wednesday that referred to the 'latest barbaric events in Aden.'

Yemen accused the Houthi militia of attacking civilians, including women and children, in the Tawahi neighborhood of Aden, killing more than 50 people who were trying to flee violence. They also accused the rebels and forces loyal to former leader Saleh of preventing medical teams from aiding the injured and of killing humanitarian workers.

Johannes Van Der Klaauw, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, also said in a statement: 'I am gravely concerned by reports coming out of Yemen yesterday [Wednesday] with accounts of scores of people, many of them civilians and including women and children, being killed and injured in hostilities.

'Civilians were reportedly targeted while they were trying to flee to safer areas, having been trapped in Aden [for six weeks] with limited or no access to water, food and health care for weeks,' his statement continued. 'Violence towards civilians and aid workers, and attacks on hospitals and other civilian infrastructure, must stop immediately.'

Human Rights Watch reported Thursday that pro-Houthi forces killed two civilians and illegally detained a group of aid workers last month in Aden.

'The difficulty of investigating the fighting in Yemen may mean abuses like these in Aden are just the tip of the iceberg,' Joe Stark, HRW's Middle East and North Africa director, said in a statement. 'The onus is on all factions and on the Saudi-led coalition to take steps to abide by the laws of war.'

HRW urged the Houthi rebels to avoid harming civilians and to investigate and punish any fighters responsible for abuses.

After Kerry wraps up his visit to Saudi Arabia, he travels to Paris where he will meet with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and the foreign ministers of Gulf Cooperation Council countries, plus participate in World War Two Victory Day commemorations.

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