CAIRO — Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that a humanitarian crisis in Yemen was growing “more dire by the day” and that he would discuss plans with officials in Saudi Arabia to halt the Saudi-led bombing campaign in order to allow the delivery of food, medicine and other aid.
“I am convinced of their desire to implement the pause,” Mr. Kerry said, speaking at a news conference in Djibouti shortly before he planned to travel to Riyadh, the Saudi capital. Mr. Kerry also said there was an “indication” that the Houthis, the Yemeni rebel group that is the primary target of the six-week Saudi military offensive, might also “be willing to engage in a pause.”
There was no evidence that any cease-fire was imminent on Wednesday, as more than 80 people were killed across Yemen in some of the deadliest and most intense hostilities yet in the conflict. The surging violence, in the far north and in the southern port city of Aden, highlighted the difficulties of arresting a war that appears to be gathering in ferocity as it fractures Yemen in a way that seems increasingly difficult to repair.
Relief agencies have made increasingly desperate pleas for the combatants to pull back to allow the delivery of fuel and food to replace dwindling stocks. On Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders released a rare joint statement condemning repeated attacks by the Saudi-led coalition on airports that they said were “obstructing delivery of much needed humanitarian assistance and movement of humanitarian personnel.”
“The harsh restrictions on importations imposed by the coalition for the past six weeks, added to the extreme fuel shortages, have made the daily lives of Yemenis unbearable,” the statement said, while adding that “armed factions” were also obstructing patients’ access to hospitals.
The Obama administration has backed the Saudi-led offensive against the Houthis, which aims to restore the exiled government of Yemen’s president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. American officials said in April that they had pressed Saudi officials to scale back the bombings amid growing concern about the high number of civilian casualties.
In response, the Saudis changed the name of the military operation but continued the airstrikes, saying that they were justified in doing so as long as the Houthis continued to advance.
“The immediate crisis is a humanitarian one, and I hope that very quickly the structure can put together which will enable humanitarian assistance to be delivered,” Mr. Kerry said, adding that he hoped it could happen in days.
As discussions continued over relief options, Yemeni officials and health workers reported a sharp rise in civilian casualties on Wednesday. Witnesses in the northern province of Saada said that the Saudi-led military coalition had pounded the area with airstrikes early Wednesday, killing at least 35 people, most of them civilians, according to Houthi officials and residents.
Mohamed Abu Nayef, who lives in Saada, said that one of the airstrikes hit a multistory building housing members of one extended family, causing it to collapse. More than 27 members of the family were killed, he said.
The airstrikes came a day after tribes aligned with the Houthis fired mortars into Saudi Arabia, striking the town of Najran. On Wednesday, the Saudi state news agency said another barrage of shells from Yemen had killed five people in Najran Province, including a security officer.
Airstrikes by the coalition later in the day in Dhamar, Yemen, south of the capital, Sana, killed at least 11 people, according to Ammar Nasser al-Sanabani, a spokesman for a local hospital.
In Aden, the Houthis and allied fighters seized control of the Tawahi neighborhood in the city’s port, advancing despite a determined effort by both local fighters and the Saudi-led coalition over the last few weeks to expel the Houthis from Aden.
Residents have accused the Houthis of imposing a brutal siege on the city, aided by security forces loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s former president.