MORE than 30 air strikes hit the Yemeni port of Hodeidah within 30 minutes on Wednesday morning, in an offensive that “risks cutting the lifeline for millions of Yemenis”, the agency CARE International reported on Wednesday. The assault continued on Thursday, amid reports that people were fleeing the city.
The Saudi-UAE coalition, which pressed ahead with the strikes despite international calls to refrain, argues that it will liberate the port from Houthi militias who, it says, are using it to smuggle weapons and divert the flow of aid.
“We thought it could not get any worse, but unfortunately we were wrong,” CARE’s acting country director in Yemen, Jolien Veldwijk, said on Wednesday.
“This attack risks more people dying, but it also risks cutting the lifeline of millions of Yemenis. Food imports [have] already reached the lowest levels since the conflict started, and the price of basic commodities has risen by a third. We are gravely concerned that parts of the population could experience famine.”
Hodeidah, seized by the Houthis in 2015, is the main point of entry for food and basic supplies in Yemen, and has a population of up to 600,000. On Friday, the UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, warned that an attack meant that 250,000 people “may lose everything — even their lives”.
This week, 11 aid agencies, including Oxfam and Christian Aid, wrote to the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, urging him to “send a clear public statement that the UK cannot continue to support any party that attacks the port of Hodeidah”. On Monday, in the House of Commons, the Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, said that the Government continued to “urge all sides to de-escalate as a matter of urgency, and to engage in the political process in good faith”.
He went on: “In this House, mention is hardly ever made of the humanitarian abuses by the Houthi forces,” who had “consistently failed to adhere to UN Security Council resolutions: they have, for instance, launched missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, prevented access to humanitarian supplies — which has led to significant damage to civilians — and prevented vital vaccinations”.
The United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister, Dr Anwar Gargash, said: “The Houthis cannot hold Hodeidah hostage to finance their war and divert the flow of humanitarian aid. Their assault on the Yemeni people has continued for too long. Their folly of trying to take over Yemen through the barrel of a gun is coming to an end”.
Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Khalid bin Salman, posted on Twitter on Tuesday that the Coalition’s operations to “liberate” Hodiedah were “part of the Coalition’s unwavering commitment to support the people of Yemen against the tyranny imposed by Iranian-backed militias that are spreading chaos and destruction in Yemen.
“Addressing the humanitarian situation in a sustainable and effective manner requires liberating Yemen from the control of Houthi militias which intentionally disrupt the flow and distribution of humanitarian supplies.”
Writing in the Guardian on Wednesday, the Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield, Andrew Mitchell, a former Development Secretary, repeated his critique of Britain’s policy in Yemen (News, 8 December, 2017), arguing that it was “complicit” in the attack and had taken a “nakedly pro-Saudi approach to the conflict”.
“We must stand true to our values, to strategic common sense, indeed true to our allies’ best interests and make clear that we can no longer support their war in Yemen,” he wrote.
Britain has called for an emergency meeting of the UN security council, due to take place on Thursday.