ADEN, May 1- The United Nations has warned fuel shortages threaten to halt all relief operations in Yemen “within days” as Saudi Arabia reported the first retaliatory cross-border attack of its five week air war.
Riyadh rejected any neutral venue for UN brokered peace talks as a confidential UN report supported its allegations that regional rival Tehran had been arming Yemen’s Huthi Shiite rebels since 2009.
Yemen was the poorest Arab country even before the rebellion against now exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi escalated last year and UN agencies said Thursday that millions were at risk from any halt to food distributions.
The bombing campaign launched by a Saudi led coalition of Sunni Arab states on March 26 has virtually halted the delivery of both humanitarian aid and commercial goods, including fuel.
UN chief Ban Ki moon said the lack of fuel was preventing agencies on the ground from distributing even those stocks already inside the country, most of which are in the hands of rebels who are under a UN arms embargo.
“Humanitarian operations will end within days unless fuel supplies are restored,” Ban said.
He called for an “immediate resumption of fuel imports to avoid making the already catastrophic humanitarian situation in Yemen even worse.”
Just over a month of fighting in Yemen has left nearly 1,250 people dead, in a conflict affecting 7.5 million people, the World Health Organization said Friday.
The World Food Programme said it was halting its food distribution in Yemen due to the severe fuel shortage.
The agency is in urgent need of more than 200,000 litres (45,000 gallons) of fuel to be able to continue distributing food supplies already in its warehouses, stocks that can feed 1.5 million people for one month.
All airports are closed to civilian traffic and shipments by sea are being delayed.
Ban renewed his call for an immediate ceasefire and said, short of that, there should be humanitarian pauses in areas affected by the fighting.
Early last week, Riyadh announced a halt to the coalition air war but it has kept up its air strikes against the rebels and their allies within the armed forces every day since.
Saudi King Salman and his son and Defence Minister Prince Mohammed, newly elevated to deputy crown prince earlier this week, have staked immense political capital in the campaign to reinstate Hadi and have said repeatedly that it will go on until the rebels concede.
The Huthis have countered that there can be no resumption of UN-brokered peace talks until the bombing campaign stops.
– Peace only through Riyadh –
Gulf foreign ministers on Thursday rejected any venue for the UN talks except Riyadh, anathema for the rebels.
Iran has proposed holding United Nations talks on ending the war at a neutral venue, excluding all countries from the coalition.
But in a statement after talks at a Riyadh air base, the six Gulf Cooperation Council member states “affirmed their support to intensive efforts by the legitimate Yemeni government to hold a conference under the umbrella of the GCC secretariat in Riyadh.”
Of the six Gulf Arab states, only Oman is not part of the Saudi-led military coalition.
Tehran has repeatedly denied Riyadh’s charges of arming the rebels but a confidential UN report seen by AFP on Thursday gave support to the Saudi allegations.
The report by a panel of experts on the findings of an investigation into the 2013 seizure by Yemeni authorities of an Iranian ship, the Jihan, was presented to the Security Council’s Iran sanctions committee last week.
The information collected by the experts “suggests that the Jihan case follows a pattern of arms shipments to Yemen by sea that can be traced back to at least 2009,” the report said.
Saudi Arabia said its forces on Thursday killed dozens of rebels who had attempted their first retaliatory ground incursion of the five-week air war.
The Saudi defence ministry said that three of its troops had been killed but that the assault had been repulsed with the loss of dozens of rebel fighters and allied troops.
There have been deadly skirmishes before but it was the first time the Saudi military had reported a full-scale Huthi attack on its borders.