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Airstrikes In Southwest Yemen Prompt Appeals From Aid Groups

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From Yemen today, an urgent appeal for calm from an aid group struggling to save civilians from Saudi bombing raids and rebel fire. Doctors Without Borders says more than 65 people were killed in the latest violence in a city in southwestern Yemen. NPR's Michele Kelemen reached an aid worker there by phone.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: After deadly airstrikes in the city of Taiz, Salah Dongu'du had a grim task. He had to bring body bags to help bury the dead.

SALAH DONGU'DU: I delivered the body bags we supplied and I also looked at a few of the houses that were destroyed.

KELEMEN: Dongu'du is the project director in Taiz for Doctors Without Borders, or MSF. When he reached the neighborhood many hours after the explosions, he was told by local community leaders that the area was hit seven times in just a few minutes and 17 houses were destroyed. He says the local leaders told him there were no rebels in that area.

DONGU'DU: And they told me that 17 children were among the dead plus about 20 women who are dead, according to them.

KELEMEN: But it's difficult to know, he says, whether these houses were destroyed only by Saudi airstrikes or by Houthi rebels who have also shelled residential areas. There are no clear lines, he says, in the city of hundreds of thousands of people. MSF says the hospitals it supports in the region are totally overwhelmed and are running out of supplies. Patients and staff are often unable to reach clinics because of the heavy fighting and the airstrikes, and that's tough on aid workers like Dongu'du.

DONGU'DU: It's difficult and it's frustrating. Imagine yourself being in a place sometimes wanting to help people, but at the same time, you are not able to.

KELEMEN: His aid group is calling on the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebels on the ground to stop attacking civilian targets, especially hospitals and ambulances and densely-populated areas. The U.S. has also been urging all sides to abide by humanitarian law, but the Obama administration has stopped short of publicly criticizing its ally, Saudi Arabia, for the way it has waged the campaign, even after reports that the Saudis may be using cluster bombs. A State Department spokesman would only say the U.S. has discussed that issue privately with Riyadh. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.