ADEN - Clashes between rebels and pro-government forces and Saudi-led air strikes killed at least 85 people in Yemen, medics and military sources said Sunday, after Riyadh pledged to fund a UN aid appeal.

The United Nations says hundreds of people have died and thousands of families fled their homes since the coalition air war began on March 26 at the request of embattled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi. Ten Huthi rebels and four pro-Hadi ‘popular committees’ militiamen were killed in pre-dawn clashes in the southwestern city of Taez, the sources said.

The city has seen fierce clashes over the past week, after having been largely spared in fighting that has spread across several provinces. On Sunday, coalition warplanes pounded Huthi positions in Taez, an AFP correspondent said, adding that the streets were empty and shops were closed.

Air strikes on Shiite rebel positions in the southern city of Daleh as well as clashes on Sunday killed 17 Huthis and six southern fighters. Seven more Huthis were killed in an attack by tribesmen in the southern province of Shabwa. In Aden, 11 Huthis and five pro-Hadi fighters were killed in clashes on Saturday night and Sunday morning, military sources said.

The pro-Hadi fighters recaptured the Russian consulate and a Hadi residence from the Huthis, they added. The rebels, who seized Sanaa unopposed in September, have since expanded their control across the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country. Saudi King Salman ordered the aid pledge following a UN appeal on Friday for $274 million (253 million euros) in emergency assistance for the millions affected by Yemen’s multi-sided conflict.

The kingdom ‘stands with its Yemeni brothers’ and hopes for ‘the restoration of security and stability’, the state Saudi Press Agency said. UN Humanitarian Coordinator Johannes Van Der Klaauw said Friday that ‘ordinary families are struggling to access healthcare, water, food and fuel - basic requirements for their survival’.

Aid has only trickled in to Yemen, largely because of Saudi-led coalition restrictions on its airspace and ports. On Saturday, the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition said efforts are under way to step up aid to Yemen, after two loads of supplies donated by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates reached Yemen.

‘Other cargos will follow in the coming days’ in a ‘sea bridge to get aid to the Yemeni people,’ Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri told reporters in Riyadh. He insisted, however, that shipments must be coordinated with the coalition. Aid group Doctors Without Borders said ‘more than 70 tonnes of medical material’ arrived by plane in Sanaa on Saturday. The UN agency for refugees says that up to 150,000 people have been displaced over the past three weeks, while more than 300,000 had already fled their homes because of unrest in past years. The coalition has launched more than 2,000 air strikes on Yemen since its campaign began, Assiri said. The Huthi rebels swept into the capital in September from their highland stronghold and later advanced south on the major port of Aden, forcing Hadi to flee to Riyadh.

The Iranian plan calls for an immediate ceasefire and end of all foreign military attacks, humanitarian assistance, a resumption of broad national dialogue and ‘establishment of an inclusive national unity government.’ ‘We reject the Iranian initiative,’ Yemeni government spokesman Rajeh Badi told Reuters by telephone from Qatar’s capital, Doha. ‘The goal of the initiative is only a political maneuver.’

Yemen’s government and its main supporter, Saudi Arabia, have accused Iran of meddling in Yemen’s affairs as part of an effort to dominate the region. Iran denies the allegations. Iran has also dismissed accusations it is providing direct military support to Houthi fighters, Shi’ites from the north who have been closing in on the southern port city of Aden.

Western and Arab diplomats in New York have shown little interest in the Iranian plan, saying they do not consider Iran a neutral peace broker in Yemen, a small oil producer also destabilised by attacks by al Qaeda’s most lethal branch. The United Nations said about 150,000 people had been driven from their homes by air strikes and ground fighting, with more than 750 people killed.

Saudi Arabia has said its aim is to carry out air strikes to force the Houthis to negotiate with the government, which is in exile. US President Barack Obama and Saudi King Salman agreed in a telephone conversation on Friday that a negotiated political solution was essential for lasting peace in Yemen, the White House said in a statement. Conflict in Yemen risks spilling out onto busy sea lanes that pass it and potentially disrupt the narrow Bab el-Mandeb passage through which nearly 4 million barrels of oil are shipped daily to Europe, the United States and Asia.