Smoke billows from the Fajj Attan Hill following a reported airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition on an army arms depot, now under Huthi rebel control, on April 20, 2015, in Sanaa. The UN this week called the humanitarian crisis in Yemen one of the "largest and most complex in the world."
Saudi airstrikes continue in lead up to Yemen ceasefire
02:12 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: A Saudi-backed humanitarian pause takes hold

The International Committee of the Red Cross is planning to use the pause to bring in aid

At least 90 people were killed in airstrikes targeting a weapons depot in Sanaa, health officials say

Sanaa, Yemen CNN  — 

Yemen’s residents saw a much-needed break late Tuesday in the fighting gripping the country as a five-day humanitarian pause proposed by Saudi Arabia went into effect.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Friday that his country would implement the pause at 11 p.m. local time (4 p.m. ET) to allow humanitarian organizations to bring in aid.

It had been unclear whether the Houthis, the Shiite minority rebel group that ousted Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi this year, would abide by the proposed halt in fighting between their forces on the ground and a Saudi-led coalition.

But a Houthi-appointed Yemeni military spokesman, Kaleb Luqman, said the rebels agreed with the proposed pause, the country’s Houthi-run news agency, SABA, reported Saturday, and the ceasefire went into effect as planned.

In March, the Saudi-led coalition began airstrikes against the Houthis, who have taken over the capital, Sanaa, and many other parts of Yemen. The fighting has intensified in the buildup to the pause, with dozens of airstrikes over the weekend.

Humanitarian organizations have expressed concern over how much aid can be flooded into the country even if the five-day pause is respected.

The fighting has damaged the runway of the capital’s airport, and there has been fighting in key ports into which aid could be delivered. A fuel shortage has limited the delivery of supplies within the country in recent days, according to the United Nations.

ICRC assessing needs in various Yemeni cities

Nevertheless, the International Committee of the Red Cross said it would use the pause to do whatever it could.

“We are working to assess the needs of medical supplies, water and food in the affected areas, especially in Aden, Saada, Amran, Taiz, Marib, Al Dhalae, Lahj and Abyan,” spokesman Adnan Hizam said from Sanaa.

“The truce will make it easier for the ICRC to continue its work to reach more people in need to provide help,” Hizam said.

Asked if the ICRC had been given assurances that its teams would be safe, he replied, “We have to contact all parties involved in the conflict to get a safer access and security guarantee for our teams to reach the people in need.”

The new U.N. envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, arrived in Sanaa on Tuesday before the halt in fighting, SABA reported.

His visit will last several days, during which he hopes to “sit down with different Yemeni parties to reach a political solution,” the news agency said.

The U.N. envoy is already meeting with Mohammed Abulahoum, a mediator involved in the upcoming pause, two Yemeni officials told CNN.

As violence flares, 7 things to know about Yemen

Airstrikes target weapons depot

The reported toll from a series of airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa climbed Tuesday to at least 90 dead and 300 injured, two Yemeni Health Ministry officials told CNN. Police officials earlier said at least 25 people had been killed.

The deaths came amid more than 25 coalition airstrikes on a Houthi weapons depot at a military base in eastern Sanaa over the course of 10 minutes Monday.

Also Monday, one Saudi citizen was killed and four others were wounded in shelling on Saudi Arabia’s southern border, said the Saudi Arabian Civil Defense spokesman, according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

Three foreigners were among the injured, spokesman Maj. Yahya bin Abdullah Al-Gahtani said, without detailing their nationalities.

The latest violence came after the Saudi-led coalition rained down missiles in Yemen on Friday and Saturday. The Saudi Press Agency said there had been 130 airstrikes in a 24-hour period, an attack that a U.N. official called a breach of international humanitarian law.

Coalition spokesman Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri said civilians had been warned ahead of time to leave the cities of Saada, Maran, Albiqaa and the border area between Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

He also accused the Houthi rebels of manning checkpoints that prevented civilians from leaving, in effect using them as human shields.

But Johannes Van Der Klaauw, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, rejected that rationalization for the airstrikes.

“The indiscriminate bombing of populated areas, with or without prior warning, is in contravention of international humanitarian law,” Van Der Klaauw said.

‘Entirely up to the Houthis’

Al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, speaking Friday in Paris beside U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris, said the outcome of the proposed lull in fighting would be up to the Houthis.

“This ceasefire will be throughout Yemen or nowhere in Yemen, and the matter is entirely up to Houthis and their allies,” he said. “This is, I believe, a chance for the Houthis to show that they care about their people and they care about the Yemeni people.”

Any respite is a blessing for the Arab nation of more than 27 million people.

Yemenis have been dealing with violence for months, but it increased significantly with the start of the Saudi-led strikes in support of Hadi, who is now outside Yemen but claims he is still its legitimate President.

The Saudis say they want to restore the Yemeni government, a key U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaeda, which was kicked out of the capital by the rebels earlier this year.

But behind this explanation lies the influence of Iran in the region. The Saudis see the Iranian-backed Houthis as a threat, analysts say.

The Yemen conflict has claimed more than 1,400 lives since mid-March, and nearly 6,000 people have been injured, Van Der Klaauw said.

Journalist Hakim Almasmari reported from Sanaa and CNN’s Samira Said from Atlanta, while Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London. CNN’s Mariano Castillo, Nick Paton Walsh and Zahraa Alkhalisi contributed to this report.