UN checks Saudi air strike impact on Yemen refugees

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- UNHCR seeking information on displacement

- Hopes aid convoy can leave from Saudi side

GENEVA, Nov 6 (Reuters) - The United Nations refugee agency said on Friday it was looking into whether Saudi air strikes on rebels in northern Yemen had affected an estimated 3,500 to 4,500 displaced people gathered near the border.

Saudi Arabia said on Friday its offensive against Yemeni rebels would continue until it had cleared them from its territory, after gunmen infiltrated into the kingdom and attacked border guards.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) hopes an aid convoy carrying shelter supplies would be able to enter northern Yemen from Saudi Arabia in coming days, spokesman Andrej Mahecic told a news briefing in Geneva.

"We have no information whether these actions have had any impact on displaced people or whether they have caused new displacement," he said.

A Saudi government adviser said on Thursday Riyadh had launched air strikes on rebels in northern Yemen after the Shi'ite insurgents' cross-border raid this week.

The rebels accused Saudi Arabia of attacking villages within Yemen. Yemen's government, which has long dismissed accusations by rebels that it has colluded with Riyadh to combat them, has denied Saudi planes had struck across the border.

A first UNHCR convoy from Saudi Arabia passed into Yemen nearly a month ago with tents, mattresses and blankets.

Yemen's army launched Operation Scorched Earth in August to crush the rebellion.

An estimated 150,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) are gathered in four provinces -- Saada, Hajjah, Al Jawf and Amran -- a U.N. spokeswoman said.

The situation in Saada and nearby provinces remains "tense and volatile," according to Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

"As the conflict continues and the winter approaches, the situation for IDPs is becoming increasingly challenging," she said. Some were reported to be living under plastic sheeting in open areas, with no proper shelter and in unhygienic conditions.

Many are women caring for children who were "traumatised" by the bombings they witnessed, Byrs added.

Diarrhoeal diseases, as well as skin, respiratory and urinary infections and malaria are the main ailments affecting the displaced people who have consulted a clinic in Al-Mazrak camp in Hajjah, according to the World Health Organisation.

There is an urgent need for drugs, medicines and access to safe drinking water in Al-Mandaba camp, where an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 IDPs are sheltered, it said. Some 140 to 210 new people arrive there each day, according to OCHA.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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