The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) hopes to bring vital medical supplies and aid workers into Yemen after receiving approval from the Saudi-led military coalition, an ICRC spokeswoman said.
The aid agency has been negotiating for nearly a week to deliver lifesaving supplies and equipment to Yemen, where the coalition has conducted 11 days of air strikes against Iran-backed Shia Houthis. The coalition now controls the country’s ports and air space.
“We have received permission from the coalition for two planes now, one carrying supplies and one with staff,” ICRC spokeswoman Sitara Jabeen told Reuters on Sunday.
The Red Cross hoped that the aircraft could land on Monday in the capital Sana’a, she said. However, it was still awaiting approval for an ICRC surgical team it plans to bring by boat into the southern city of Aden, where fighting remains intense.
In Riyadh, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition said arrangements had been made for at least one Red Cross aid delivery on Sunday morning, but the ICRC had pulled out of the arrangement.
“There was a trip fixed for them at nine this morning ... They informed us, after the time was set, of a request to delay the flight,” Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri told reporters, adding that this was because the company from which they had chartered the plane could not fly to Yemen.
The coalition says it has set up a special coordination body for aid deliveries and asked NGOs and governments to work with it to ensure humanitarian aid can be brought into Yemen and foreign nationals can be evacuated safely.
The ICRC deploys 300 aid workers, including foreigners, in Yemen, the Arab peninsula’s poorest country. On Saturday, it called for a 24-hour humanitarian pause in the conflict to allow aid to reach people cut off by air strikes and to save the lives of “streams of wounded”.
Houthi fighters and allied army units clashed with local militias in the southern Yemeni city of Aden on Sunday, and eyewitnesses said gun battles and heavy shelling ripped through a downtown district near the city’s port.
The Houthi forces have been battling to take Aden, a last foothold of fighters loyal to Saudi-backed president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, advancing to the city centre despite 11 days of air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition of mainly Gulf air forces.
Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia launched the air strikes on 26 March in an attempt to turn back the Iran-allied Shia Houthis, who already control Yemen’s capital Sana’a, and restore some of Hadi’s crumbling authority.
The air and sea campaign has targeted Houthi convoys, missiles and weapons stores and cut off any possible outside reinforcements – although the Houthis deny Saudi accusations that they are armed by Tehran.
The fighting has failed so far to inflict any decisive defeat on the Houthis, or the supporters of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh who are fighting alongside them, but the growing death toll and humanitarian suffering has alarmed aid groups.
The United Nations said on Thursday that more than 500 people had been killed in two weeks of fighting in Yemen.