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Saudi-led coalition asks UN to help re-open Yemen's Sanaa airport

© AFP/File | A picture shows the international airport in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on January 22, 2017

RIYADH (AFP) - 

An Arab coalition allied with Yemen's government on Thursday requested UN help to re-open Sanaa airport, in an apparent response to aid groups' demand that the airport be allowed to receive flights delivering relief.

Yemen's capital Sanaa is controlled by Shiite Huthi rebels allied with Iran, who for two years have fought the Saudi-backed government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi for control of the country.

Aid groups, along with the Huthis, on Wednesday appealed to the Saudi-led Arab coalition to allow the delivery of desperately-needed supplies to Yemen, which now faces a deadly cholera epidemic and the imminent threat of famine.

The Saudi-led coalition forced the closure of Sanaa airport in August 2016 to all but a few UN aid flights on the grounds that the airport was a main channel of arms smuggling for the rebels.

Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Maliki on Thursday called on the United Nations to "contribute to the resumption of commercial and passenger transport to Sanaa airport".

"The closure of Sanaa airport and the limitation of flights to solely those carrying aid was due to concerns for the safety of civilian travel and commercial flights, as well as the smuggling of weapons by the Huthis," al-Maliki said in a statement carried by the official SPA news agency.

UN officials in Yemen contacted by AFP were not immediately reachable for comment.

The coalition last month banned a UN flight carrying humanitarian aid workers and journalists from taking off from Djibouti to Sanaa.

More than 8,300 people have been killed and 44,000 wounded since the Saudi-led coalition intervened in the Yemen war to support the Hadi government.

Close to 2,000 Yemenis have also died of cholera since April and another 600,000 are expected to contract the infection this year.

The UN has called Yemen the "largest humanitarian crisis in the world".

© 2017 AFP