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Saudi-Led Coalition Pushes Houthi Rebels Out Of Aden, Yemen


Badly needed food and medicine are reaching Yemen this week after a major shift in the four month civil war there. Yemen's government was ousted in February. Saudi Arabia has led a campaign of airstrikes on rebels who the Saudi's say are Iranian proxies. Ongoing UN peace talks have failed to yield results. But in the southern city of Aden, the rebels have been chased out by a motley Saudi-backed coalition. Aden is a port city, making it key for aid shipments. NPR's Alice Fordham spoke with people there who have a little hope now that things might improve.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: For months, this has been daily life in Aden. In videos posted online by fighters, we see street battles shelling on residential areas and airstrikes on rebel forces. But over the last 10 days, the rebels known as Houthis have been pushed to the outskirts by those airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition and by ground forces loyal to an exiled government. Gradually, the airport and three seaports have opened.

Last week, the World Food Program docked the first boatload of aid in months. Aid groups had warned of an impending famine in a country that relies heavily on food imports. Now residents say there's food finding its way to the markets again. Yesterday the UN's humanitarian coordinator visited the city and discussed plans for reconstruction. Gulf countries have also sent aid by plane and boat. We reached the director of Aden's health department, Alkhader Leswar, by phone.

ALKHADER LESWAR: (Speaking Arabic).

FORDHAM: He says the situation overall is getting better. The hospitals have received aid, and they are distributing it to neighboring provinces.

LESWAR: (Speaking Arabic).

FORDHAM: But the need is great. Leswar says there are 9,400 injured people in the hospitals. Aden saw the fiercest urban fighting of this war which has killed more than 3,500 people nationwide, according to the UN.

LESWAR: (Speaking Arabic).

FORDHAM: And, Leswar says, reconstruction is urgent because burst sewers and a lack of clean water are making people sick. Officials say reconstruction is going to start soon. A few ministers from that exiled government have come back to Aden. Their spokesman, Rajeh Badi, who's in Saudi Arabia, says more will follow shortly.

RAJEH BADI: (Speaking Arabic).

FORDHAM: We're trying to normalize life again in Aden, he says.

BADI: (Speaking Arabic).

FORDHAM: But he also insists they won't engage in political dialogue with Houthi rebels - not yet. A third attempt was made at a cease-fire yesterday which failed in less than 24 hours. UN peace talks have collapsed. Plus, both sides stand accused of targeting civilians. Doctors Without Borders says Houthi shelled residential neighborhoods in Aden, while Human Rights Watch says an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition last week killed at least 65 civilians, including 10 children. An analyst with the International Crisis Group, April Alley, says the reconstruction of Aden is an opportunity for the exiled government to regain some trust.

APRIL ALLEY: The ministers that have gone back there thus far are going to be focused on throwing everything they have at getting Aden running again as a city and securing the city and holding it up as an example.

FORDHAM: But Alley also says keeping the peace isn't going to be easy. As the exiled government comes back to Aden, they'll have to keep their ragtag allies unified. And much of the country is still controlled by Houthis, including the capital. Alice Fordham, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.