GENEVA (Reuters) - The Red Cross said on Saturday it had entered the war-torn Yemeni city of Taiz for the first time since August, delivering three tonnes of life-saving medical supplies to four hospitals treating the wounded.
Taiz has been one of the hardest-fought fronts in a war in which local militias and forces loyal to a Saudi-backed government ousted by Houthi rebels last March are seeking to fight their way back to the capital Sanaa.
Many residents of the city of 200,000, in the southwest of the country, say the Houthis have blocked aid from entering and bombed civilian targets.
"This is a breakthrough and we hope that today's operation will be followed by many more to come," Antoine Grand, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation in Yemen, said in a statement.
The ICRC team delivered surgical items, intravenous fluids and anaesthetic supplies to help treat hundreds of wounded, he said.
"Essential medicines and supplies for pregnant women were also provided. All of these items are in high demand by the hospitals in Taiz that continue to receive a daily influx of wounded people," Grand said.
Living conditions for civilians in the city have continued to worsen, with residents facing daily insecurity and a constant struggle for medical care, food and water, the ICRC said.
Yemen has become one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. The U.N. says famine looms as over half the population, or 14.4 million people, face hunger and not even its hospitals are spared.
The al-Thawra hospital in Taiz has had all its windows blown out by the pressure of bombs landing nearby, and several direct hits have reduced one ward nearly to dust.
ICRC spokesman Francis Markus confirmed that al-Thawra was one of the four that received medical supplies, along with Al-Taawon, Al Hikma and Al-Jumhoury hospitals. "What is needed is regular unimpeded access," he said.
After the government fled into exile, a Saudi-led alliance of Arab states joined the war to restore it to power, recapturing the port city of Aden, where President Abd Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi is now based.
Riyadh and its allies have launched hundreds of air strikes, sent in ground troops and set up a naval blockade to restrict goods reaching Yemen. The Saudis say the Houthis, drawn mainly from a Shi'ite sect that ruled a thousand-year kingdom in north Yemen until 1962, are puppets of its arch rival, Shi'ite Iran.
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Hugh Lawson