UN raises Yemen alarm, services on ‘brink of collapse’

The UN secretary-general is raising the alarm on Yemen, saying more than 1,200 have been killed and that the country’s health, water and telecommunications systems are “on the brink of collapse.”

A statement Thursday from Ban Ki-moon’s office repeats his call for an immediate ceasefire, or at least humanitarian pauses, as a Saudi-led coalition continues air strikes against a rebel group that is supported by Iran.

The statement says the fighting has “severely blocked shipments of food, fuel and health care” and all airports are closed to civilian flights.

The statement warns that already challenged humanitarian operations in the Arab world’s poorest country will end within days unless fuel imports return. Elsewhere, cross-border attack on Saudi Arabia by Yemeni rebel forces resulted in late-night clashes that left three Saudi soldiers and “dozens” of Yemeni rebels dead, according to the Saudi Defense Ministry. A ministry statement said that a group of Yemen’s Shiite rebels attacked “border posts and control points” in the southern Saudi province of Najran late on Thursday night. Saudi forces, backed by air force fighter jets, repelled the attack, the statement said. A Saudi-led coalition of mostly Sunni Arab nations has been conducting air strikes inside Yemen for more than a month, seeking to blunt the advance of rebel forces who have overrun the capital, Sanaa, and were advancing deep into southern Yemen. The Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, are allied with military and security forces loyal to ousted former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Yemen’s Western-backed president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, fled the capital earlier this year after being placed under house arrest by the rebels. Hadi temporarily set up a provisional capital in the southern port city of Aden, but later fled the country as the rebels forces advanced on Aden. Hadi now operates from the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

Despite more than a month of air strikes, the campaign has largely failed to halt the rebel advance into southern Yemen. However the Saudi government claims its coalition campaign has destroyed much of the rebel stockpile of missiles and heavy weapons.