Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Coalition partners form committee to evacuate civilians in Yemen
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Saudi Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Ahmed Asiri gives a press conference at the Riyadh Airbase, Saudi Arabia, on March 4, 2015. (Saudi Press Agency)

Saudi Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Ahmed Asiri gives a press conference at the Riyadh Airbase, Saudi Arabia, on March 4, 2015. (Saudi Press Agency)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Forces taking part in the Saudi-led coalition targeting the Houthis in Yemen have formed a humanitarian and emergency committee to help evacuate civilians located in conflict zones around the country, the Saudi Defense Ministry announced on Saturday.

Saudi Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Ahmed Asiri told reporters in Riyadh that the committee had already coordinated the evacuation of foreigners in Yemen from five countries: Russia, India, Algeria, Indonesia and Pakistan.

Flights organized to evacuate other foreigners in Yemen were also scheduled for Sunday, and included those from China, Djibouti, Egypt and Pakistan. Other countries who have requested their citizens to be evacuated included Britain, Germany, Canada, Jordan and Iraq, he said, adding that the committee was awaiting flights from those countries to arrive in order to begin the evacuation process in full.

All these efforts were coordinated with the countries in question as well as coalition countries, and aircraft from members of Operation Decisive Storm, such as Jordan and Egypt, had helped evacuate Russian civilians from the country on Wednesday, Asiri revealed.

He added that the Saudi Defense Ministry, which is coordinating the activities of the committee, is also helping organize procedures to ease and speed up the work of trusted and internationally recognized humanitarian agencies, in order to allow them to reach those most affected by the conflict.

Asiri reiterated that coalition forces were doing all they can to evacuate civilians, as this is a natural course of action during times of war when civilians are located in or around military targets.

Any delay in evacuating civilians from the country was due to the Houthi movement, he said, who currently control the capital Sana’a and other parts of the country, including most of its airports.

Asiri said the Saudi Defense Ministry had been in touch with the International Committee of the Red Cross to deliver on Sunday humanitarian aid to civilians in conflict zones in the country.

“The [International Committee of the] Red Cross informed us today [Saturday] that they would be [sending provisions to civilians]. The raison d’être of this entire coalition is to serve and save the Yemeni people,” Asiri said.

Humanitarian efforts were therefore an intrinsic part of the operation, Asiri said.

The Red Cross has asked for a 24-hour ceasefire in order to help the organization reach those most affected by the conflict. Asiri hinted such a ceasefire could be possible in future.

“If the political leadership [of the coalition] finds there is a need for such a ceasefire of airstrikes, then a decision will be made in this regard. We are currently fulfilling our objectives on the ground, and our main objective is the welfare of the Yemeni people, the safety and security of the region, and those of Saudi Arabia and the other countries bordering Yemen,” Asiri said.

“This does not mean, however, that we will not also be carrying out humanitarian missions,” he added.

Asiri also spoke of the military progress of Operation Decisive Storm, which began on March 25 targeting the Iran-backed Shi’ite Houthi movement in Yemen, which has launched a coup in the country.

In addition to Sana’a, militias belonging to the Houthis have entered the southern port city of Aden, where internationally recognized Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi had been based since the coup and his escape from a Houthi-imposed house arrest in Sana’a in February. He has now traveled to Saudi Arabia.

Coalition airstrikes on Houthi targets in and around the city scheduled for Friday had been delayed, Asiri revealed, in order to allow time to evacuate civilians from the area.