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Russian diplomatic staff leave Yemen's Sanaa

Decision attributed to situation in Houthi-controlled Yemeni capital facing bombardment by Saudi-led military coalition.


Russia has suspended its diplomatic presence in Yemen, and all its staff have left the country due to the situation in the capital Sanaa, according to official Russian sources.

Russia's RIA news agency quoted Maria Zakharova, the country's foreign ministry spokesperson, as making the announcement on Tuesday.

The Russian ambassador to Yemen and some diplomatic staff will be working temporarily out of Riyadh in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, Russia's Interfax news agency reported citing the foreign ministry.

The Russian withdrawal comes as a Saudi-led military coalition continues a blockade of Yemen, which began in October after it shut down the country's borders in response to a missile fired by rebels that struck near the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in neighbouring Yemen in March 2015 in an attempt to push back the Houthi rebels, who are said to be backed by Iran, and restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The blockade was designed to cut off the alleged supply of weapons to Houthi rebels from Iran but has exacerbated what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Aid organisations in Yemen faced further difficulties when renewed violence broke out in Sanaa after the killing of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former president, on December 4.

Permission request

Earlier on Tuesday, the Saudi state news agency SPA reported that a Russian plane evacuated embassy staff and some Russian nationals from Sanaa.

It quoted an official source in the Saudi-led coalition as saying it had received a request for permission for a Russian plane to evacuate the personnel, and that the plane had left Sanaa airport.

In a statement in August, the Russian embassy in Yemen had expressed concern over the "high intensity of air strikes by the Arab coalition on Yemeni cities and towns that often lead to civilian casualties".

"Moscow still believes that there is no alternative to the early cessation of violence," the statement said, urging a resolution through UN-supported peace talks.

The conflict in the Arabian Peninsula country has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced another three million, according to the UN.

Millions of Yemenis are struggling with hunger and disease, including the worst cholera epidemic on record, which has infected about one million people.

On Monday, a senior UN official called for parties involved in the war to allow "sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access" for Yemenis.

"The lives of millions of people, including 8.4 million Yemenis who are a step away from famine, hinge on our ability to continue our operations and to provide health, safe water, shelter and nutrition support," Jamie McGoldrick, the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said in a statement.

Amid mounting international pressure, Saudi Arabia began to allow some humanitarian aid to enter the country in the last week of November.

Despite this easing, the situation in Yemen remains severe, according to McGoldrick.

"The continuing blockade of ports is limiting supplies of fuel, food and medicines, dramatically increasing the number of vulnerable people who need help," he said.

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