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Yemeni rebels accused of banning UN agencies, aid groups

CAIRO: UN sources said Wednesday that Yemen’s Houthi rebels have banned over 35 UN and international agencies and relief groups from working in the territory under their control, allegations denied by a rebel spokesman.

A ban would make it even harder to respond to what the UN says is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. A Saudi-led coalition has been at war with the Iran-allied Houthis since 2015 and has severely restricted the import of aid and other vital goods. The war has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced 2 million and helped spawn a cholera epidemic.

The UN sources told The Associated Press that negotiations are underway, without providing further details. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to brief the press.

A leaked document posted on Twitter by the Yemeni Embassy in Washington, operated by the government, showed a list of 35 agencies, including the World Health Organization, the UN children’s agency and Oxfam. The document, purportedly signed by a Houthi-allied deputy health minister, orders officials to “ban them from movement in and to governorates.”

“The organizations listed here work in the health sector and haven’t passed through the Health Ministry to obtain permission for staff, medicine, and medical supplies to move between governorates and towns. They work unilaterally,” the document said.

A spokesman for the Houthi-run Health Ministry denied there was a ban. “Clearance was necessary even before the war,” Abdel-Hakim Al-Kahlani told The Associated Press. He said the the agencies need permission in order to pass through checkpoints and can easily obtain it from the Health Ministry, which is open 24 hours a day. “There are no restrictions, as far as I know,” he said.

The UN called for $3 billion dollars in its 2018 humanitarian appeal for Yemen, saying 16.4 million people require assistance to ensure adequate access to health care. It is the largest such appeal ever launched for Yemen. Last year, donors covered 70 percent of a $2.34 billion appeal.

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