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Russia, Red Cross appeal for 'humanitarian pause' in Yemen

Russia's UN ambassador says pause is necessary to help diplomats and civilians caught in the war

Russia and the Red Cross appealed on Saturday for a military pause in Yemen to allow urgent humanitarian aid deliveries and evacuation of civilians after 10 days of Saudi-led air strikes and fighting in which hundreds of people have died.

Russia distributed a draft resolution at the United Nations pressing for suspensions of the air strikes to allow evacuation of foreign civilians and diplomats, and demanding rapid and unhindered humanitarian access.

After the meeting, Jordan's U.N. Ambassador Dina Kawar, the current council president, said members "reiterated concern over the grave humanitarian situation" and again called for implementation of a resolution demanding an end to the fighting in Yemen and a return to negotiations.

She said council members need time to consider the Russian draft resolution.

Russia's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov told reporters as he headed into the closed meeting that a pause is "very important" to help diplomats and civilians caught in the war.

A Yemeni-American man was killed in Aden this week, his family told Al Jazeera, in the first reported U.S. citizen fatality of this latest rash of violence.

Jamal al-Labani, a father of three, from Oakland, California was fatally hit by mortar shelling, according to his cousin Mohammed Alazzani. The incident underlined the plight Yemeni-Americans face in trying to escape the bloodshed, said community advocates, who have called on the U.S. State Department to better help U.S. citizens get out of the country.

Echoing Russia’s call for calm, the International Committee of the Red Cross on Saturday also called for an immediate pause in hostilities to deliver life-saving medical aid, saying three of its shipments remained blocked.

"All air, land and sea routes must be opened without delay for at least 24 hours to enable help to reach people cut off after more than a week of intense air strikes and fierce ground fighting nationwide," the ICRC said in a statement.

The United Nations says more than 500 people have been killed in the last two weeks in Yemen and nearly 1,700 wounded. Residents in Aden say parts of the southern port city have been without water or electricity for two days.

There was no sign of a halt in the fighting.

Aden residents said ships from the Saudi-led coalition bombarded Houthi forces who have taken over districts close to the center of the city despite Riyadh's military campaign in support of their foe, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Hadi loyalists managed to push the Houthis and their allies from central Aden's Crater district on Friday, a rare victory after more than a week of gains by the Shia Houthis, who are backed by soldiers loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Jets from the Saudi-led coalition parachuted weapons into Aden for a second day to bolster fighters loyal to Hadi, who fled Yemen 10 days ago and has watched from Saudi Arabia as the Houthis advanced on his supporters' last major foothold.

A military spokesman for the Saudi coalition said it was providing substantial logistical support for Hadi's fighters. He declined to confirm or deny reports that Saudi special forces were operating in Aden.

But a fighter in Aden, Khaled Ahmed Saif, appealed on local television for the coalition to send ground troops as soon as possible, saying the city was being subjected to a "genocidal war" by the Houthis.

Residents said life was becoming unbearable. "How long can people live without water or electricity?" said Mohammad Fara'a. Another Crater resident, Hassan Abdallah, said people were using a long-disused well at one of the mosques to get water.

Near the capital Sanaa, an air strike on the village of Okash killed a family of nine people on Friday night, residents said.

Coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, asked about the calls for a humanitarian pause, said only that the military was ready for any instructions from its political leadership. He said aid agencies and governments should coordinate aid shipments with officials in Riyadh.    

Tribes against Al-Qaeda

The conflict in Yemen has turned the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state into the latest theater for predominantly Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia's proxy war with predominantly Shia rival Iran, a struggle which is also playing out in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

Tehran denies Riyadh's charges that its arms the Houthis, who emerged as the country's most powerful faction when they took over the capital six months ago together with supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Saudi Arabia, unnerved by the growing power of the Shia Houthis on its southern flank, launched military attacks on March 26. Saudi jets have been backed by planes from its Gulf Arab neighbors.

The latest fighting is one of many conflicts in Yemen, where mass demonstrations inspired by the wider Arab uprisings of 2011 led to Saleh's resignation after three decades in power plagued by southern separatism, tribal unrest and Al-Qaeda attacks.

U.S. military officers conducting a covert drone war against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group's powerful regional wing, were withdrawn from Yemen last month, and the turmoil may provide the armed group with the chance to entrench or expand in the country's remote east.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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