Pakistani lawmakers on Friday unanimously voted to stay out of the Saudi-led coalition targeting Shiite rebels in Yemen in a blow to the alliance behind the campaign, while planes with badly needed medical aid landed in Yemen's embattled capital, Sanaa - the first such deliveries since the airstrikes started over two weeks ago.
After days of debating, Pakistan's legislature adopted a resolution stating that "Pakistan should maintain neutrality in the Yemen conflict so as to be able to play a proactive diplomatic role to end the crisis."
The resolution also called on the warring parties in Yemen to resolve the conflict through peaceful dialogue. The kingdom did not immediately comment on the Islamabad decision.
According to Pakistani officials, Saudi Arabia had asked Pakistan to send troops to take part in the campaign by major Sunni Arab countries against Iran-backed rebels known as Houthis, who have seized control of Sanaa and much of Yemen and forced Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee the country.
But the predominantly Sunni Pakistan, which has a Shiite minority of its own - one that is frequently targeted by extremists Sunni groups - and shares a long border with Shiite powerhouse Iran, has been concerned about getting involved in the increasingly sectarian conflict in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country and a Saudi-Iran proxy war in the region.
Yemen's conflict pits the Saudi-led Sunni Gulf Arab coalition against Shiite rival Iran, which supports the Houthis and has provided humanitarian aid, though both Iran and the rebels deny it has armed them. The growing regional involvement risks transforming what until now has been a complex power struggle into a full-blown sectarian conflict like those raging in Syria and Iraq.
Since the Saudi-led coalition launched the aerial campaign, pro-Saudi groups have rallied across Pakistan, urging Islamabad to join the coalition. The rallies, organized by a militant-linked Sunni group and Hafiz Saeed, who heads the Jamaat-ud-Dawa religious group, have condemned the Shiite rebels' advance in Yemen.
Pakistani lawmakers said after their vote Friday that they hoped it would pave the way for a resolution to the Yemen crisis. Sirajul Haq, the head of Pakistan's most organized Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan party, said Islamabad could "play the role of a mediator."
The United Nations and Iran have called for a return to negotiations, and Saudi Arabia had offered to host the talks. But with military operations intensifying, it was not clear who can bring the parties to the table. The rebels insist Hadi has lost his legitimacy while Saudi Arabia and allies say they are working to restore his rule.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended the joint session of parliament in a sign of his approval.
For its part, Iran has been trying to garner international support to stop the bombing and has stepped up its condemnation of the air campaign. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called it "genocide." Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif spent two days in Islamabad this week, discussing Yemen with Sharif and other officials.
Zarif has said Iran is also ready to facilitate peace talks that would lead to a broad-based government in Yemen. He also called for a cease-fire to allow for humanitarian assistance. "We need to work together in order to put an end to the crisis in Yemen," Zarif said.
Pakistan's parliament also urged Muslim countries and the international community to intensify their efforts to promote peace in Yemen. It called on Pakistan's envoys to "initiate steps" before the U.N. Security Council "to bring about an immediate ceasefire in Yemen" and warned of regional implications if the conflict becomes an all-out sectarian war.
Even though the lawmakers opted to stay out of the airstrikes coalition, they expressed "unequivocal support" for Saudi Arabia, vowing to "stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Saudi Arabia and its people" if the kingdom's territory or people came under threat.
As the airstrikes campaign entered its third week, humanitarian groups are struggling to cope with the rising casualty numbers and shrinking food and fuel supplies.
The two aid planes from the International Committee for the Red Cross and the U.N. Children's agency, UNICEF, were the first international assistance deliveries to Sanaa. A smaller delivery had arrived in the southern, port city of Aden by boat earlier this week.
ICRC spokeswoman in Sanaa Marie Claire Feghali said the 16.4 tons (18 US tons) of medical supplies the organization brought can treat up to 1,000 wounded. UNICEF representative in Yemen, Julien Harneis, said the agency brought 16 tons (17 US tons) of medical equipment and water supplies for about 80,000 people, along with micronutrients for up to 20,000 children.
"The supplies we have managed to bring in today can make the difference between life and death for children and their families - but we know they are not enough, and we are planning more of these airlifts," Harneis said from the Jordanian capital, Amman.
The airport area was heavily shelled overnight, with airstrikes targeting military installations and weapons depots in the area, according to witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
The World Health Organization said Wednesday that at least 643 civilians and combatants have been killed since March 19 in Yemen. At least 2,226 have been wounded, and another 100,000 have fled their homes.