Medical supplies, UN aid workers reach Yemen after blockade eased

GENEVA/SANAA (Reuters) – Humanitarian aid workers and medical supplies began arriving in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa on Saturday, UN officials said, after the easing of a nearly three-week military blockade that sparked an international outcry.

Aid groups have welcomed the decision to let aid in but said flights are not enough to avert humanitarian crisis. About 7 million people face famine in Yemen and their survival depends on international assistance.

“First plane landed in Sanaa this morning with humanitarian aid workers,” the World Food Programme’s regional spokeswoman Abeer Etefa told Reuters in an email, while officials at Sanaa airport said two other UN flights had arrived on Saturday.

The UN children’s fund UNICEF said one flight carried “over 15 tonnes” of vaccines that will cover some 600,000 children against diphtheria, tetanus and other diseases.

“The needs are huge and there is much more to do for #YemenChildren,” the world body said on Twitter.

Airport director Khaled al-Shayef said that apart from the vaccinations shipment, a flight carrying eight employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross had also landed.

“Sanaa airport was closed from Nov. 6 until today, more than 18 days and this closure caused an obstruction to the presence of aid workers,” he told Reuters in Sanaa.

“There are more than 500 employees trapped either inside or outside being denied travel as well as 40 flights that were denied arrival at Sanaa airport.”

Colonel Turki al-Maliki, spokesman for the Saudi-led military coalition that closed the ports, said three more aid flights had been approved for Sunday.

The coalition, which is fighting the armed Houthi movement in Yemen with backing from the United States, said on Wednesday it would allow aid in through the Red Sea ports of Hodeidah and Salif, as well as UN flights to Sanaa.

The coalition closed air, land and sea access in a move it said was to stop the flow of Iranian arms to the Houthis, who control much of northern Yemen.

The action came after Saudi Arabia intercepted a missile fired toward Riyadh. Iran denied again on Saturday supplying weapons to the Houthis.

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