The UN humanitarian agency says thousands of Yemeni civilians are trapped in an embattled northern district as fierce clashes between warring factions continue.

Saudi-led coalition backed forces patrol, Mocha, Yemen. (February 12, 2018)
Saudi-led coalition backed forces patrol, Mocha, Yemen. (February 12, 2018) (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

UN humanitarian agency warned on Tuesday that thousands of Yemeni civilians caught in fierce clashes between warring factions are trapped in an embattled northern district, an area that has become another flashpoint in the country's bitter civil war.

The number of displaced in the impoverished district of Hajjah has doubled over the past six months, with over 5,300 families fleeing from the district and its surrounding area in the past weeks, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA.

Hajjah's mountainous district of Kushar, only 50 km (31 miles) from the border with Saudi Arabia has been hit particularly hard — roads and all communication lines are cut and "thousands of civilians are reportedly trapped between conflicting parties," the UN said.

Over the past days, air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition, which is fighting on behalf of Yemen's internationally recognised government, killed 22 people, including women and 14 children in the area.

"It is outrageous that innocent civilians continue to die needlessly in a conflict that should, and can be solved," said Lise Grande, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Yemen.

Yemen's Houthi rebels imposed tight control over Kushar after powerful local tribesmen took up arms against them. The Houthis subsequently shelled the district — home to 100,000 people — and killed and wounded scores of civilians. Thousands were displaced. As the Houthi siege strangled the area, the Saudi-led coalition airdropped food and medicine to the tribes.

The district's tribes, in a 2012 deal with the Houthis, had remained neutral in Yemen's civil war, which erupted in 2014, and were in return left in peace on their lands. The area's Hajour tribes also belong to the same Zaydi Shia sect as the Houthis.

But after the Houthis tried to use the district to send weapons and reinforcements to other front-lines, where they have been fighting Saudi-backed forces, the deal collapsed.

The recent developments in Hajjah — where the total number of displaced due to the fighting numbers around 30,000 — underscore the fragmentation of the Houthis' support base in northern Yemen, where the rebels have mostly been in control since the start of the conflict.

Yemen's civil war has killed over 60,000 people — both civilians and combatants — and displaced 3 million, pushing the already impoverished nation to the brink of famine.

Source: AP