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Civilian deaths rise in Yemen despite port truce: aid group

Fighters loyal to the Huthi movement protest in the capital Sanaa against airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemeni province of Hajjah
Fighters loyal to the Huthi movement protest in the capital Sanaa against airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemeni province of Hajjah AFP
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Washington (AFP)

Civilian casualties have risen in Yemen despite a three-month-old truce in a vital port as the devastating conflict intensifies elsewhere, an aid group said Monday.

The Norwegian Refugee Council, which has been providing food, shelter and other necessities in the country described by the United Nations as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, said that sniper and explosive attacks have been growing despite an easing of air attacks.

Yemen's beleaguered Saudi-backed government and Iranian-linked Huthi rebels in December agreed in Sweden on a truce that included a ceasefire in Hodeida, the lifeline port on the Red Sea.

But the Norwegian Refugee Council said that deaths have been rising in two other regions, Hajjah and Taez.

Since the Hodeida truce, 348 civilians have been killed in the two provinces, more than double the nationwide number excluding Hodeida from the previous three months, said the group, using data from the Civilian Impact Monitoring Project backed by humanitarian agencies.

"The reduction in violence seen in Hodeida through recent months has been counteracted by escalations in other parts of the country," said Mohamed Abdi, the Norwegian Refugee Council's country director for Yemen.

"While air strikes on Hodeida city have reduced significantly and a semblance of life has resumed, the fighting is intensifying in other parts of the country with a devastating impact on civilians," he said in a statement.

He called on the combattants to return to the negotiating table and extend their ceasefire across all of Yemen to "put an end to this untold suffering for Yemeni civilians."

The group said that 13 schools were among the buildings attacked over the past three months and that 80 percent of Yemen's population -- 24 million people -- still required humanitarian assistance.

The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen since March 2015, when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- with the logistical and political backing of the United States -- unleashed air power against the Huthi rebels.

Rights groups say that the death toll could be far higher. Save the Children has estimated that 85,000 Yemenis under five years old may have died of starvation.

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