WASHINGTON, Dec 7, (RTRS): US President Donald Trump called for Saudi Arabia to immediately allow humanitarian aid to reach the Yemeni people, suggesting Washington had run out patience with a Saudi-led blockade that has been condemned by relief organizations.
The Saudi-led military coalition fighting the Iran-aligned armed Houthi movement in Yemen’s civil war started a blockade of ports a month ago after Saudi Arabia intercepted a missile fired toward its capital Riyadh from Yemen. Although the blockade later eased and showed signs of breaking on Wednesday, Yemen’s situation remained dire.
About 8 million people are on the brink of famine with outbreaks of cholera and diphtheria. “I have directed officials in my administration to call the leadership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to request that they completely allow food, fuel, water and medicine to reach the Yemeni people who desperately need it,” Trump said in a statement, without elaborating.
“This must be done for humanitarian reasons immediately,” Trump said. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said the first food and fuel had arrived in Hodeidah and Saleef ports, but supplies were at a trickle compared to what was needed, since Yemen’s population of 27 million was almost entirely reliant on imports for food, fuel and medicine. Oxfam International applauded Trump’s statement, calling it “long overdue but hugely important.”
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, who has called for restrictions on US arms sales to Saudi Arabia, said he expected the Kingdom to heed Trump’s call. Trump’s brief, one-paragraph statement is one of the clearest signs of US concern over aspects of Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy. Saudi Arabia has also split with Trump over his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Meanwhile, a Western-backed Saudi- led coalition scored its first major gains in Yemen since former President Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed on Monday when local fighters captured an area on the Red Sea coast from Houthi rebels, residents said on Thursday.
Saleh, who had made common cause with the Houthis after they captured the capital Sanaa in 2014, switched sides in an announcement last week that plunged the country deeper into turmoil. Residents said southern Yemeni fighters and allied local forces captured al-Khoukha district located some 350 km (220 miles) south-west of Sanaa after heavy fighting over Wednesday night which also involved coalition forces. Houthi forces control Sanaa and much of the rest of the impoverished country, where three years of war has killed more than 10,000 people and brought it to the verge of famine.
Saleh had helped the Houthis win control of Sanaa and much of the north and his decision to abandon them had major implications on the battlefield. The Houthis crushed a pro-Saleh uprising in the capital and shot him dead in an attack on his convoy on Dec 4.
Saleh’s body remained at a military hospital in Sanaa while the Houthis — who control the capital — and members of his party sparred over burial plans, sources close to the family said. The sources said the Houthis had demanded that Saleh’s body be buried in a family ceremony at his home village of Sanhan, south of Sanaa, while the family was insisting that the Houthis hand over the body without any conditions.
The Houthis said they had found stashes of gold and cash at Saleh’s residence, which they had over-run and seized before his death on Monday, and confiscated it for the benefit of the state treasury. The group gave no details on the amount and the report could not independently be verified.
UN-appointed investigators said in 2015 that Saleh was suspected of having corruptly amassed as much as $60 billion, equivalent to Yemen’s annual GDP, during his 33 years in office. The US and UK-backed Saudi-led coalition has stepped up air strikes on Yemen since Saleh’s death as Houthi forces have tightened their grip on the capital.