Yemeni Rebels Advances in Port City of Aden

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Yemen_RebelsADEN, April 05- Houthi rebels in Yemen continue to gain ground in the southern city of Aden Sunday, despite a Saudi-led airstrike campaign.

Russia and the International Committee of the Red Cross want Saudi Arabia to pause its military campaign against the Houthi rebels to allow for safe deliveries of civilian aid and the evacuation of foreigners.

The Russian plea came Saturday during an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council called by Moscow. A Russian draft proposal demands “regular and obligatory” pauses in airstrikes by the Saudi-led Sunni coalition battling Shi’ite rebels in Yemen.

In Geneva, the Red Cross also called for an immediate break in hostilities, saying its aid shipments were being blocked.

Jordan’s U.N. ambassador, Dina Kawar, said Council members hoped to reach a decision on the Russian-backed resolution by Monday. She spoke in her role as this month’s president of the Council.

Saudi Arabia has been leading an Arab coalition that has pounded Houthi rebels in Yemen for more than a week. Airstrikes continued Saturday, targeting rebel positions in Sana’a, the capital.

Russia’s deputy ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov, told the 15-member Security Council that a pause in fighting would help ensure safe departures from Yemen by diplomats and civilians trying to flee the crisis.

For his part, Britain’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Peter Wilson, voiced regret for civilian casualties, but said Britain continued to support the Arab coalition. The airstrikes against Houthi rebels began, he said, in response to “a legitimate request” from President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was driven from power in January and fled Yemen last week.

“We got to this position because the Houthis, over and over again, violated cease-fires, took military action, took action by force instead of engaging in a genuine way in political talks,” said Wilson. “The only way out of this crisis is through a return to genuine political talks on an equal basis, and not using force.”

Yemen borders Saudi Arabia and lies at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, overlooking the narrow Bab el-Mandeb strait used by all maritime traffic transiting the Red Sea.

In its call for a suspension of hostilities, the Red Cross cited the “dire humanitarian situation” in the country. Spokeswoman Sitara Jabeen told VOA it had nearly 50 tons of medical supplies ready to send to hospitals in Yemen.

Jabeen said much of Yemen was running low on life-saving medicine and equipment. The conflict also is water and electricity cutoffs, with aid workers reporting the port city of Aden dry and dark for the past two days.

The port of Aden, the last remaining stronghold of supporters of Yemen’s internationally backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, is one of the key battlegrounds between the president’s supporters and the Houthi fighters and their Shi’ite allies who make up the rebel side. The opposing forces have battled fiercely since Thursday for control of one of Hadi’s palaces in Aden.

U.N. data shows 519 people have been killed and nearly 1,700 wounded in Yemen during the last two weeks, but it is not clear how many fighters are on those lists.

The U.S. State Department warned Americans Saturday not to travel to Yemen, saying “terrorist activities and civil unrest” posed a severe threat to visitors’ security.

The French army evacuated 44 foreigners from Balhaf, in the south of Yemen, Saturday.  The foreigners, who are French and other nationalities, were taken from the port in Balhaf by boat to the French Navy ship, Dixmude.

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