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Saudi-led coalition announces $1.5 bn in new aid for war-torn Yemen

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A malnourished Yemeni child receives treatment at a hospital in the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah on January 16, 2018

A Saudi-led military coalition on Monday announced $1.5 billion in new humanitarian aid for Yemen after the United Nations made what it called a record appeal for assistance for the war-ravaged country.

The coalition said it would also "increase the capacities of Yemeni ports" to receive humanitarian imports, as it faces mounting criticism for imposing a crippling blockade on the country.

The latest aid package, which follows last week's $2 billion Saudi cash injection to Yemen's central bank, comes amid an ever-escalating crisis in the country, where conflict, cholera and a looming famine have killed thousands and put millions of lives at risk.

"The coalition will coordinate $1.5 billion in new humanitarian aid funding for distribution across UN agencies and international relief organisations," the coalition said.

The new aid programme seeks to open land, sea and air routes to Yemen to boost monthly imports to 1.4 million metric tons from 1.1 million last year, the statement said.

The coalition pledged up to $40 million for the expansion of ports to accommodate additional humanitarian shipments, adding that it would set up an air bridge between Riyadh and the central Yemeni province of Marib to run aid flights with C130 cargo planes.

The coalition said it would set up 17 overland "safe-passage corridors" to facilitate access for humanitarian organisations operating inside Yemen, including in rebel-held territory.

"The coalition is placing its military resources at the disposal of these broad-ranging humanitarian operations," said coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki.

"We are backing a professionally planned and detailed humanitarian mission with military power and precision to guarantee that the humanitarian aid reaches the people who need it to lift their suffering."

More than 9,200 people have been killed in Yemen since 2015, when a Saudi-led military coalition intervened to back the country's internationally-recognised government against Iran-backed Huthi rebels.

- 'Destruction of Yemen' -

At a conference in Riyadh Monday attended by the foreign ministers of coalition countries, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir lashed out at the militiamen for the "destruction of Yemen" and accusing Iran of supplying the rebels with ballistic missiles.

"Iran is not part of the problem," Maliki added. "Iran is the problem."

Iran denies it has armed the Huthis.

The United Nations on Sunday made what it described as a record appeal for aid to Yemen, calling for nearly $3 billion in humanitarian relief for the crisis-plagued country.

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday deposited $2 billion in Yemen's central bank after the Yemeni prime minister made a public plea for funds to prop up the currency and help stave off hunger.

On top of war casualties, nearly 2,200 Yemenis have died of cholera amid deteriorating hygiene and sanitation conditions, the World Health Organisation says.

Over the past year, the United Nations' efforts to address what it has described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis have been hampered by a crippling blockade of rebel-held ports by the Saudi-led coalition.

A series of missiles launched from Yemen targeted the capital Riyadh and several border towns, triggering a sharp Saudi response -- the closure of Yemen's ports and borders that were already under an extensive blockade.

The blockade has been partially eased under international pressure and dire predictions from aid organisations that it could trigger the worst famine the world has seen in decades.