At least 62 children have been killed and 30 injured in the week-old conflict in restive Yemen, the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF revealed on Tuesday.
Fighting has escalated between Shiite Houthi rebels and Sunnis loyal to ousted president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi since the rebels advanced on his southern stronghold of Aden, forcing him to flee to allied powers in the Arab world, first to Riyadh and then to Egypt for the Arab League Summit in the coastal resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.
“Children are in desperate need of protection, and all parties to the conflict should do all in their power to keep children safe,” UNICEF’s representative for Yemen, Julien Harneis, said.
A Saudi-led coalition, which included Egypt, Sudan, Morocco as well as a number Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, began an air strike campaign entitled Operation Storm of Resolve six days ago, they say to “protect the legitimate government of Yemen from falling”.
Video footage of street clashes has also emerged in the city of Aden while a number of Yemeni refugees have fled to East Africa because of the escalating violence in southern Yemen.
“The current escalation in violence and the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation is exacerbating already precarious conditions for children in the country, with widespread food insecurity, severe acute malnutrition and increased rates of child recruitment,” the agency said in a statement.
The United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon also urged all involved in the Yemen conflict to protect civilian lives. “The secretary-general reiterates his firm belief in the necessity to resolve the conflict through peaceful means,” his spokesman said.
“The secretary-general reminds all parties involved in military operations in Yemen of their obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of civilians,” he added. “This includes the strict adherence to the principles of proportionality, distinction, and precaution.”
Earlier this week, an air strike killed dozens of people at a camp for displaced civilians in the country’s northwest, killing 40 people and wounding 200, according to the International Organisation for Migration. Air and sea blockades have also been imposed on the country by the Saudi-led coalition to prevent fighters or weapons leaving or entering the Arab state, however, the blockade is likely to exacerbate the deteriorating humanitarian situation with a lack of essential goods reaching the Yemeni people, a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) spokesman told Al Jazeera.
Sana’a resident, Hisham al-Omeisy, told Newsweek that the situation on the ground in the Yemeni capital was “one of despair, confusion, fear, anger, a myriad of mixed emotions” amid the escalating violence where “the average Yemeni Joe is no longer sure whom to blame for the rapidly deteriorating situation”.
It is widely believed that Egypt and Saudi Arabia, both Sunni-Arab countries, moved to act in Yemen because of concerns about Tehran’s growing influence in the region, with the Houthis acting as an Iranian proxy that has the potential to consolidate power on Saudi Arabia’s borders. Washington has also announced that it is supplying logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition against the rebels.