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Russian medics operate on Yemen's Saleh despite embargo

© AFP | Former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, seen at an August rally in Sanaa, says he has has undergone surgery in the capital by Russian doctors after a rare suspension of a Saudi-led coalition air blockade

SANAA (AFP) - 

Former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh said he has undergone surgery in Sanaa by Russian doctors after a rare suspension of a Saudi-led coalition air blockade.

A spokesman for the Arab coalition did not respond to requests Thursday for comment on the lifting of the blockade for the Russian medical team.

Saleh, 75, said the coalition had authorised the entry of the Russian team for cataract surgery, for which he had waited "more than a year", in an interview broadcast on Yemen Today television.

He said the operation was "a success" and that a medical examination had confirmed he was "in very good health".

The coalition enforced the closure of Sanaa airport after its intervention in Yemen's war on the government side against a rebel alliance of Shiite Huthis and forces loyal to Saleh.

Only select UN flights are authorised to land by the coalition, which controls Yemen's airspace as well as a string of ports on the country's coastline.

A high-ranking source in the government told AFP that the United States, an ally of Saudi Arabia, had facilitated the entry of the Russian medical team because it wanted Saleh to be "in good health".

Washington sees Saleh as key to dealing with the Huthis, who have rejected UN mediation in the conflict, according to the source.

The Yemen war has killed more than 8,600 people since the coalition intervened in 2015, and it has pushed the country to the brink of famine, according to the World Health Organization.

The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates another 2,100 people have died of cholera this year.

© 2017 AFP