UN medical evacuations to begin from Yemen's rebel-held Sanaa

AFP , Monday 3 Feb 2020

Critically ill Yemenis in need of medical care are to be flown out of rebel-held Sanaa on Monday, an airport official said, under a United Nations humanitarian evacuation plan for the war-torn country.

The internationally recognised government, backed by a Saudi-led military coalition, has been fighting the Iran-aligned Huthi rebels since 2014, when the rebels seized control of the capital.

In November, the coalition -- which controls Yemen's airspace -- said that patients needing medical care would be allowed to be flown out of Sanaa, which has been closed to commercial flights since 2016.

"Patients and families are due to arrive in Sanaa airport at 12:30 local time (0930 GMT), and the aircraft is expected to leave today," a Huthi official at the airport told AFP.

The Huthis on Sunday criticised the evacuation plan as inadequate for the needs of thousands of people in urgent need of treatment.

"The World Health Organization said it will transport via a small UN plane only seven patients with their escorts per flight," the rebels said in a statement carried by their Al-Masira channel.

"The number of people signed up for medical evacuations are around 32,000 patients with serious illnesses."

The United Nations and the WHO could not immediately comment on whether the airlift was going ahead and how many patients would be involved.

But aid sources in the Jordanian capital Amman said they were preparing to receive Yemeni patients.

UN Special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths last month told a Security Council that "we are very close to seeing the first flight move 30 patients who are now waiting in Sanaa for their treatment".

"These flights will transport patients who need medical attention unavailable in Yemen to agreed locations abroad," he said.

"I really hope that by the time we meet next month... we will have seen that first flight happen."

The Norwegian Refugee Council welcomed the start of the humanitarian airlift but said that others were handed a "death sentence" when the coalition closed down the airport in Sanaa.

"Today's move comes too late for thousands of Yemenis who died waiting to leave the country for urgent life-saving care," said Mohamed Abdi, the NRC's country director for Yemen.

"We hope that these medical flights will save the lives of other Yemenis. Many more are still waiting to get the healthcare they need."

Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced in the war, which the UN says has caused the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

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