Norwegian Refugee Council says coalition's blockade of airport is causing more deaths than its air strikes on rebels
The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen asked the UN to take control of the country's main airport in the capital Sanaa, which is held by their Houthi-rebel enemies, state news agency SPA reported.
In a Thursday statement titled Official Coalition Spokesman Asks UN to Run Sanaa International Airport, spokesman colonel Turki al-Malki said the alliance may allow Sanaa flights to resume.
"Should airport management and security be conducted properly, ensuring the safety of all inbound flights and stopping arms smuggling, Joint Forces Command is prepared to restore normal flight activity," he said.
Malki said the coalition aimed to prevent arms shipments from reaching the Houthis by air, but worked to ensure the delivery of commercial, cargo and humanitarian flights into the country.
The coalition of Arab states forced the closure of Sanaa airport to all but very limited UN flights last August, saying it was necessary to prevent arms smuggling.
Aid groups plead for airport reopening
On Wednesday, however, 15 aid groups and the Houthi rebels called on the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen to reopen the airport, saying the year-long closure was hindering aid and preventing thousands of patients from flying abroad for life-saving treatment.
Aid groups have warned that the closure is hampering the delivery of desperately needed supplies, which now have to go through the Red Sea port of Hodeida.
"The sick can no longer travel abroad for treatment and medicines can no longer be brought in," the rebels' transport minister, Zeid al-Chami, told reporters.
He appealed to the international community to put pressure on the Arab coalition to relent.
The sick can no longer travel abroad for treatment and medicines can no longer be brought in
- Zeid al-Chami, Houthi transport minister
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said the coalition's blockade of the airport was causing more deaths than its air strikes on the rebels.
About "10,000 Yemenis have now died from health conditions for which they were seeking medical treatment abroad", the aid agency said, citing figures from the rebels' health ministry.
"The number exceeds the alarming death toll of close to 9,000 people killed in violent attacks."
NRC country director Mutasim Hamdan said it was vital that the airport reopen.
"It is critical that all channels of domestic and international air movement are reopened so Yemenis can get help, and help can get to Yemenis," he said.
Yemen has been torn apart by a civil war in which the internationally recognised government, supported by the coalition, seeks to push back gains made by the Iran-aligned Houthi group.
The Houthis control most of the north, while the Saudi-led coalition controls the airspace. Any reopening would require an agreement between the two sides, who blame each other for Yemen's humanitarian disaster - one of the world's worst.