Riyadh: Yemen’s foreign minister called on Wednesday for a Saudi-led military coalition targeting Al Houthi rebels in his country to send ground troops.
“Yes I’m calling for this [ground forces] because I think at some stage air strikes will be ineffective,” Riyadh Yassin said during an interview in the Saudi capital where he has taken refuge along with President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
His appeal coincided with warnings from aid groups about a brewing humanitarian crisis and civilian casualties in Yemen, where the coalition began air strikes a week ago.
Yassin said ground forces would cause “less civilian casualties”, but added the main reason he proposes a land operation is to enable aid deliveries.
“I am suggesting to start as soon as possible,” he added.
“We don’t have a safe place from where they can operate,” he said of the aid groups.
On Tuesday the Saudi-led coalition’s spokesman, Brigadier General Ahmad Assiri, said that “so far there is no need for land intervention” in Yemen, but the need might arise “at any time”.
A Western diplomatic source on Wednesday said that a land offensive would be “very, very complicated and difficult”, partly because it would have to pass mountainous terrain in the country’s north, with which Al Houthi rebels are highly familiar.
The source ruled out a seaborne landing because the coalition lacks amphibious forces.
But the foreign minister said troops could come in from the south, around the port city of Aden, which would be relatively easy to secure and could become a safe haven for humanitarian operations.
Aid agencies said on Tuesday they could not get assistance into Yemen.
The closure of the country’s international airports, and restrictions on seaports, are hampering delivery, Doctors Without Borders said.
Al Assiri said all kinds of assistance for Yemen’s needy are welcome, but it has to go through “diplomatic channels”.
He said the movement of aid needs to be coordinated with the military “to make sure that we don’t have any mistakes or any misunderstandings concerning the movement in the ports or airports or through the Saudi border.”
Since Friday at least 93 civilians have been killed and 364 wounded in the conflict, the UN human rights office said on Tuesday.
“I’m very, very concerned” about the civilian impact, Yassin said.