Russia at UN Echoes Red Cross, Calls for Pause in Yemen

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Protest in Yemen
A supporter of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh takes part in a protest against Saudi-led operations at al-Tahrir Square in Sanaa, Yemen, on April 03, 2015. Photographer: Mohammed Hamoud/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Russia is urging the United Nations Security Council to order “humanitarian pauses” to the Saudi-led coalition’s air strikes on Yemen, to help diplomats and civilians caught in the conflict safely leave the country.

Russia distributed its draft resolution during a 90-minute emergency meeting to discuss fighting between the 10-nation military coalition and Houthi rebels. Prospects for the resolution were unclear. Saudi officials called the measure unnecessary.

The proposal calls for “regular and obligatory humanitarian pauses in the air strikes by the coalition to allow all concerned states and international organizations to evacuate their citizens and personnel from Yemen,” according to a copy of the draft resolution obtained by Bloomberg.

Saudi Arabia and regional allies started bombing Yemen last month to halt military gains by the Shiite Houthi rebels. More than 500 people have been killed in the past two weeks, according to the UN. The kingdom and some other Gulf Cooperation Council monarchies accuse Iran of supporting the Houthi movement’s efforts to overthrow President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi.

Russia circulated the text after it evacuated almost 350 of its citizens from Yemen, according to an Interfax news agency report on Saturday, which cited a spokesman for the Russian embassy in Sana’a. Its initiative coincided with a demand by the International Committee of the Red Cross for a temporary halt to the fighting to allow delivery of humanitarian aid.

‘Humanitarian Pause’

“A humanitarian pause is very important because of the diplomatic and civilian people in Yemen,” Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov, told reporters before the council meeting. “The idea, of course, is when we evacuate people we have to make sure it’s secure and safe.”

Houthi rebels fought their way into the center of the seaport city of Aden on Thursday, before withdrawing as the Saudi-led group of nations targeted their positions.

The rebels and their allies seized the Aden governor’s office, Khaled Sha’e, a leader in a militia loyal to President Hadi, said by phone. Meanwhile, 25 people were killed in clashes between Houthis and Hadi’s supporters in the southern province of Abyan, according to Mohammed Masood, a secretary in the Abyan governor’s office.

About 519 people have been killed and 1,700 injured during the past two weeks, Valerie Amos, the UN under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said two days ago.

Americans Warned

Late Friday the U.S. State Department urged Americans living in or visiting Yemen to leave. There were no plans for a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation, the State Department said in its travel warning. The U.S. suspended consular services in Yemen in February, citing the deteriorating security situation.

The Geneva-based ICRC issued a statement Saturday, saying, “All air, land and sea routes must be opened without delay for at least 24 hours to enable help to reach people cut off” by the violence.

The aid organization on Mar. 31 accused the Saudi-led coalition of blocking the delivery of aid shipments to Sana’a.

Windows shook in Sana’a on Saturday as the coalition bombed military posts loyal to the Houthis and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, Ahmed Yahia, a local resident, said by telephone. Targets included weapons depots and the headquarters of the military police.

Fuel Shortages

“Hospitals and clinics treating the streams of wounded from across much of Yemen are running low on life-saving medicines and equipment,” the ICRC said. “In many parts of the country, the population is also suffering from fuel and water shortages, while food stocks are quickly depleting.”

Production has been halted at Yemen LNG’s liquefied natural gas facility in Balhaf, Shabwa province, and all but a few workers evacuated, said an employee not authorized to speak publicly. Yemen LNG is operated by a consortium led by France’s Total SA.

Abdullah al-Mouallimi, Saudi ambassador to the UN, said Saturday there was no need for Russia’s resolution because the coalition has made arrangements for evacuating foreigners and is facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance “as we have always agreed to do so.”

Gulf Resolution

“We share the concern for the humanitarian situation, but it is something that is already covered in the resolution that was prepared and presented through Jordan by the GCC states,” Al-Mouallimi said, referring to a draft Security Council resolution he authored with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council on Mar. 26.

Jordan is one of 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council and acts as a proxy for other Arab countries.

The Gulf text called for imposing an arms embargo and sanctions on the Houthis. Russia objected to that in an expression of support for Iran, according to two Security Council diplomats who are involved in the negotiations and asked not to be named citing sensitivity of the matter.

Dina Kawar, the Jordanian ambassador to the UN, said negotiations between the Gulf nations and Russia will continue throughout the weekend with “hopes to come up with something by Monday.”

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