Over 3,000 displaced as clashes flare up in north

The security situation in Saada Governorate, northern Yemen, has been deteriorating in the wake of sporadic clashes between government forces and a group of Shia rebels since May, aid workers say.



On 16 June Rabab al-Rifai, an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesperson, told IRIN the recent clashes had displaced over 500 families (some 3,500 people) who have now fled to Saada City.



“We are still assessing the situation and based on the result we will see how best to respond to the needs of the people who have recently fled their homes,” she said, adding that the families had been provided with essential household items to help them cope with their new situation.



On 15 June the information office of rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi issued a statement saying government troops had attacked houses in Razeh District, Saada Governorate, killing some civilians and wounding others. The government refuses to comment on its operations in Saada, but it has said al-Houthi followers are trying to block peace efforts in the governorate.



The Saada conflict between the government and al-Houthi rebels, in which hundreds have been killed and thousands displaced, started in 2004 and has flared up on several occasions since.



Kidnappings



The kidnapping on 12 June of nine foreigners, including six aid workers, in Saada and neighbouring Amran governorates has also exacerbated tension between the two sides.



Seven of those kidnapped were Germans, one was from the UK and one from South Korea. The aid workers belonged to Worldwide Services Foundation, a Dutch aid group, and worked at the Saada-based al-Jumhury Hospital, run by the government.



Three of those kidnapped have been found dead in al-Safraa District, Saada Governorate, according to the Interior Ministry. The remaining six are still missing.



Mutahar Rashad al-Masri, the interior minister, accused al-Houthi followers of kidnapping the group, but al-Houthi leaders have denied this.



A day earlier armed men kidnapped a group of 24 foreign health workers in Harf Sufian District, Amran Governorate. However, the workers, employed by al-Salam Hospital in Saada, were released unharmed the following day.



It is not clear if the kidnappings would adversely affect humanitarian work in Saada. ICRC’s al-Rifai said it was too early to say whether the organization would review its activities in Saada.



The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has been assisting IDPs in Saada Governorate since 2007 and its latest update estimates 100,000 people have been displaced by the conflict.



ICRC, in cooperation with the Yemeni Red Crescent Society, has been providing humanitarian assistance to more than 7,400 IDPs in three camps in Saada City since 2008. The assistance includes water, mattresses, blankets and medical care, said al-Rifai.



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