Political Analysis

Russia urges UN to call for ‘humanitarian pause’ in Yemen

National Yemen

Jordanian Ambassador to the United Nations Dina Kawa

UNITED NATIONS  — Russia urged the U.N. Security Council on Saturday to call for a “humanitarian pause” in airstrikes by a Saudi-led military coalition to help evacuate foreigners from Yemen and unhindered access to deliver aid to civilians caught in the fighting between Shiite rebels and supporters of the country’s beleaguered president.

Russia called an emergency meeting of the council and circulated a draft resolution demanding “regular and obligatory” breaks in airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition against Houthi Shiite rebels to allow foreign personnel to leave the country. It makes no mention of a halt to fighting by the Houthis.

The draft, obtained by The Associated Press, also demands “rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches people in need.”

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.

The Gulf Cooperation Council previously proposed a draft resolution that would impose an arms embargo on the Houthis, whose main backer is Iran. Kawar said talks would continue Saturday between a few council members and the GCC on both measures.

The GCC includes Yemen’s neighbors Saudi Arabia and Oman as well as Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.

“We hope that by Monday we can come up with something,” Kawar said.

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.

Saudi Arabia’s U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi said his country has already made arrangements for the evacuation of foreigners.

“The desire to provide assistance to those who need it is something we share,” he said, adding that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should determine and facilitate the best way to assist the needy.

Britain’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Peter Wilson expressed regret for any civilian casualties, but said Britain continues to support the Saudi-led military action against the Houthis in response to “a legitimate request” from embattled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled from Yemen to Saudi Arabia last week.

Houthi advances in southern Yemen have created turmoil and led to the swift unraveling of the country’s military and other forces still loyal to Hadi.

Wilson said it’s extremely important to remember that the current crisis was caused by the Houthis repeatedly violating cease-fires and taking military action instead of genuinely engaging in political talks.

“The only way out of this crisis is a return to genuine political talks on an equal basis and not using force,” he said.

The Russian proposal followed a call earlier Saturday by the International Committee of the Red Cross for a “humanitarian pause” lasting at least 24 hours that would open all air, land and sea routes to enable help to reach people cut off after more than a week of intense air strikes and fierce ground fighting throughout Yemen.

Robert Mardini, head of the ICRC’s operations in the Near and Middle East, warned that “many more people will die” unless food, water and medical care reach people in the worst-affected areas, including the besieged southern port city of Aden.

“For the wounded, their chances of survival depend on action within hours, not days,” he said.