UN: Saudi Coalition OKs Resumption Of UN Flights To Yemen

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GENEVA — The Saudi-led coalition that has imposed an air, sea and land blockade on war-battered Yemen since Nov. 6 has authorized the resumption of U.N. flights to the Yemeni capital starting Saturday, a U.N. aid official said.

The planned resumption of U.N. passenger flights from the Jordanian capital, Amman, to Sanaa, Yemen, is set to come two days after the Western-backed coalition had originally planned to reopen access to the country.

"We have been notified through our usual contacts with the coalition in Riyadh that the regular passenger flights operated by (the U.N. Humanitarian Air Service) can fly tomorrow to Sanaa from Amman starting tomorrow," said spokesman Jens Laerke of the U.N. humanitarian aid coordination agency OCHA at U.N. briefing in Geneva on Friday.

He said the opening "may be followed soon by clearances of flights from Djibouti to Sanaa."

The Saudi-led coalition has come under almost daily pressure and expressions of concern from U.N. officials, some governments and advocacy groups who fear an already dire situation in a country largely depending on aid from abroad will worsen.

The piecemeal lifting of the blockade for passenger flights is unlikely to have much impact.

"One flight from Amman to Sanaa is not going to change the overall picture all that much," Laerke said. "What really matters is (1) that the resumption of these flights becomes sustainable and, secondly, that we can get the ports in Hodeida and Saleef open both for humanitarian aid and for commercial imports."

It was not clear what items might be on the passenger flight.

"Thankfully we are starting to see some movement" in opening the blockade, Laerke said, before adding that the U.N. has seen "no substantial change" in its efforts to reach Yemen by sea.

The White House issued a statement saying that the U.S. welcomes the announcement that Sanaa International Airport was allowing the flow of humanitarian aid to the Yemeni people, adding, "We look forward to additional steps that will facilitate the unfettered flow of humanitarian and commercial goods from all ports of entry to the points of need."

Yemen's major needs include water pumps to help stem a massive cholera outbreak and fuel needed to transport food and goods.

U.N. officials say Yemen is facing the world's largest cholera outbreak, near-famine conditions in places, and a severe breakdown in the health care system in what was already the Arab world's poorest country — adding up to the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Yemenis have endured an intensified 2-1/2-year war involving a Shiite rebel group, known as the Houthis, which controls many population centers in western Yemen and an internationally recognized government that has backing of Saudi Arabia and several other key Persian Gulf states.

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