Saudi Coalition Refuses to Re-Open Key Yemen Port
The Saudi-led coalition will take steps in the coming 24 hours to ease the blockade on Yemen -- but will not reopen a key rebel-held port to aid shipments unless tighter inspections are put in place, Saudi Arabia's U.N. ambassador said Monday.
The coalition fighting rebels in Yemen shut down the country's land, sea and air borders a week ago in response to a missile attack by the Iran-backed Huthis that was intercepted near Riyadh.
U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock last week warned that unless the blockade is lifted, Yemen will face "the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims."
Saudi Ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi told reporters that ports in government-controlled areas such as Aden, Mukalla and Mocha will be reopened, but demanded tighter restrictions on the key port of Hodeida.
"If the sea port of Hodeida is to be reopened, it will have to be under safe conditions that would ensure that there will be no supply of weapons and ammunitions coming through that port," Mouallimi said.
The coalition has invited the United Nations to send experts to Riyadh for talks on tightening inspections. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said it is "taking a look" at that request.
The United Nations insisted its aid operations need access to the Hodeida and Saleef ports, saying that more than two-thirds of the people in need and 80 percent of all cholera cases are closest to the two ports.
"The port at Aden does not have the capacity for commercial and humanitarian cargo, and unless the Red Sea ports in Hodeida and Saleef are opened immediately, the U.N. will not be able to feed 7 million people every month," said Dujarric.
"Those are the ones that we need."
The United Nations has listed Yemen as the world's number one humanitarian crisis, with 17 million people in need of food, seven million of whom are at risk of famine.
More than 2,000 Yemenis have died in a cholera outbreak now affecting nearly one million people.
The U.N.'s World Food Program warned that current stocks of rice will run out in 111 days and wheat in 97 unless the blockade is lifted.
Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to push back the Iran-backed Huthi rebels who control the capital Sanaa, and restore the government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to power.