Aid agencies may stop Yemen work, Houthis say raids near border kill 43

By Mohammed Ghobari

CAIRO, May 6 (Reuters) - Warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition struck Yemeni provinces near the Saudi border overnight, killing at least 43 civilians, Houthi sources said, as aid agencies warned that fuel shortages could halt their efforts to tackle Yemen's humanitarian crisis.

Houthi fighters fired mortar bombs and Katyusha rockets at the Saudi border town of Najran on Tuesday, their first cross-border attack on Saudi Arabia since the coalition's military campaign against them began on March 26.

The conflict has disrupted imports to Yemen, where about 20 million people or 80 percent of the population are estimated to be going hungry, a statement by the United Nations and the Yemen International NGO Forum said.

A shortage of fuel has crippled hospitals and food supplies in the past few weeks, and the U.N.'s World Food Programme has said its monthly fuel needs have leapt from 40,000 litres a month to 1 million litres.

"Millions of lives are at risk, in particular children, and soon we will not be able to respond," Edward Santiago, country director for Save the Children, said in the statement.

The statement also dismissed an announcement by the Saudi-led Arab alliance about a possible truce in some areas to allow for humanitarian supplies, saying it was not enough and that a permanent end to hostilities was needed.

Two people were killed and a child severely wounded in the Saudi city of Jizan overnight when Houthis fired shells on a family house, Saudi-owned al-Arabiya television reported on Wednesday.

In Yemen, another nine people were killed and 18 were wounded in air strikes on a police academy in Dhamar province, some 100 km (62 miles) south of the capital Sanaa, the Houthi-run Saba news agency said on Wednesday.

POSSIBLE TRUCE

The United Nations said on Tuesday at least 646 civilians had been killed since coalition air strikes began, including 131 children, with over 1,364 civilians wounded.

The Iranian-allied Houthi fighters, backed by forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, seized control of key parts of Yemen, including the capital.

Saudi Arabia sees the Houthi advance as an expansion of regional rival Iran that threatens its interests. Riyadh accuses Tehran of providing weapons to the Yemeni Shi'ite Muslim militia, a charge Iran denies.

"Yemenis don't need our weapons. Saudis' actions in Yemen are not justifiable ... Americans are helping them... we only wanted to send them (Yemenis) medicine," Iranian state television cited Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as saying on Wednesday.

The Saudi-led coalition, which includes nine Arab states and has logistical support from the United States, France and Britain, seeks to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, now in exile in Riyadh.

On Tuesday, mortars and Katyusha rockets fired by Houthi fighters in Yemen struck the Saudi city of Najran, the coalition's spokesman said.

Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri said the projectiles on Tuesday struck a girls' school and a hospital in Najran, which is only 3 km (2 miles) from Yemen's border, prompting authorities to close down all schools in the area.

Civil defence authorities in Najran said three people died and 37 were wounded in the attacks, which hit buildings and cars and blasted holes in the pavement, according to Saudi media.

Saudi-led warplanes responded overnight with more than 30 air strikes on the northwestern Yemeni provinces of Saada and Hajja near the Saudi border, local officials and residents said.

Saada is a stronghold of the Iranian-allied Houthi movement.

Houthi sources said 43 civilians were killed and at least 100 wounded as a result of the strikes, which lasted until dawn on Wednesday. The figure could not be independently verified.

Local sources also said there was heavy artillery shelling coming from the Saudi border. (Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Cairo, Tom Miles in Geneva and Parisa Hafezi in Ankara; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by William Maclean and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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