SANAA: UN aid flights into Yemen’s rebel-held capital Sanaa have been halted by air strikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition which supports the government, an airport official said on Tuesday.
Due to coalition air strikes targeting the Houthi rebels, “the airport is no longer able to receive aircraft operated by the United Nations or international humanitarian organisations”, the official said.
Flights into Sanaa airport have been largely halted by a Saudi-led blockade since August 2016, but there have been exemptions for aid flights that are a key lifeline for the population.
The airport official, who asked not to be identified, called on the United Nations to secure a halt to the raids so that the airport could resume operations.
On Monday evening, the coalition said it had carried out “a limited number of precision strikes on legitimate military targets in Sanaa international airport”.
“The operation was mounted in response to the threat and use of airport infrastructure to carry out cross-border attacks,” it said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.
Its aircraft hit six targets in the airport, including sites used to “control attacks by drones loaded with explosives” or to “train terrorist elements” for such operations, the statement said.
The coalition has insisted that its strikes were “in accordance with international humanitarian law” and should have no impact on the airport’s operational capacity.
Khaled al-Shayef, Sanaa airport’s director general, said that the “health quarantine quarters and warehouses to store export and import goods were destroyed”.
A metal hangar and cement structures near an air traffic control tower were also destroyed, a correspondent reported.
“A UN team is on the ground at Sanaa airport to verify the extent of any damage,” a World Food Programme spokesperson said.
The Norwegian Refugee Council urged both sides to work with the UN to reopen the airport for humanitarian and commercial flights.
“Aid delivery to the airport is now at a standstill. We urge both the authorities in Sanaa and the Saudi-led coalition to keep Sanaa airport out of the crossfire and to ensure that it can function again for medical and commercial flights,” NRC country director Erin Hutchinson said in a statement.
The coalition said that Saudi airports were prepared to receive Yemen-bound humanitarian flights and to deliver aid through “access points” under UN supervision, according to statement carried by state-owned Al-Ekhbariya television.
It claimed the Houthis had halted UN aid flights into Sanaa airport on Dec 19.
The rebels have repeatedly launched missile and drone strikes against neighbouring Saudi Arabia, targeting the kingdom’s airports and oil infrastructure. They have intensified their strikes on the kingdom in recent months.