DUBAI/LONDON, Jan 28, (Agencies): The United Nations envoy for Yemen on Monday urged the warring parties to withdraw their troops from the port of Hodeidah quickly, and international aid agencies said that conditions for thousands of starving people were deteriorating fast. Envoy Martin Griffiths acknowledged that proposed timelines on a pull-out from the port, the main entry point for Yemen’s commercial and aid imports, had slipped while the country stood on the brink of famine.
“The initial timelines were rather ambitious,” he said in comments posted on Twitter. “We are dealing with a complex situation on the ground.” The aid agencies, meeting in London, said people were struggling to feed their children in what had become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. But, said Isabelle Moussard Carlsen of Action Against Hunger, more aid was not the only solution to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people.
“I think we need to be very clear that we need a political solution to this conflict,” she said. Agreements reached in December between the Iranianaligned Houthi movement and the Saudi-backed government of Abad Rabbo Mansour Hadi were the first significant breakthrough in four years of conflict which has killed tens of thousands of people through military actions or other causes.
But little further progress has been made, risking the unravelling of the peace efforts. The Houthis control Hodeida and troops of a Saudi-led coalition are massed on its outskirts. The warring sides disagree over who should control the city and port after forces withdraw.
The truce in Hodeida has largely been respected since coming into force a month ago, but skirmishes continue. Troops have not yet pulled out, missing a Jan 7 target, and residents and aid workers have told Reuters that barricades, trenches and roadblocks have been reinforced. Although fighting has escalated in other parts of Yemen, UN envoy Griffiths said he remained optimistic.
“More than any time in the past, there is a political will demonstrated by all parties to put an end to this conflict,” he said. “What we need to see now is the implementation of the provisions of the agreement, fully and rapidly.” The war has been stalemated for years, with the Saudiled coalition of Sunni Muslim Arab states and Yemeni allies unable to dislodge the Houthi movement that controls the capital Sanaa and most urban centres.
The coalition has twice attempted to capture Hodeidah port since last year to force the Houthis to negotiate, but held off from a full-blown assault amid fears that a disruption to supply lines would trigger mass starvation. At the London meeting, 14 aid agencies called for action on the humanitarian crisis. “It is what I like to call a prison without walls for the people living in the country at the moment. It is a difficult situation where people are struggling to buy their daily rations to be able to feed their children,”
Yemeni Oxfam campaign manager Awssan Kamal told Reuters. Kimberley Brown of the British Red Cross said 85,000 children had lost their lives and malnutrition was taking a huge toll. “I know from my colleagues that the situation is absolutely deteriorating at the moment,” she said. The coalition intervened in 2015 in Yemen to restore Hadi’s government, which was ousted from power by the Houthis in late 2014.
The group says its revolution is against corruption. Western nations, some of which supply the coalition with arms and intelligence, are pressing for an end to the conflict that is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The United Nations said shelling of a camp for displaced people in northern Yemen killed eight civilians and wounded 30 others, as the UN envoy arrived Monday in the capital, Sanaa, for cease-fire talks with Houthi rebels. The UN said the attack occurred on Saturday in the northern province of Hajjah, where tens of civilians have been killed and hundreds of families displaced in the past two months. The UN said an attack earlier in January near the same camp killed six children and two women. Lise Grance, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, said in a statement late on Sunday that the shelling was a “senseless attack.” “The people who have fl ed their homes … have lost so much already. An attack like this cannot be justified – ever,” she said. Grande didn’t identify the source of the shelling, which took place in the province’s Haradh district.
No one has so far claimed responsibility for the attack. UN envoy Martin Griffiths, meanwhile, arrived in Sanaa on an unannounced visit to discuss the situation in and around the coastal city of Hodeida, where Yemen’s warring parties agreed to a cease-fire last month. The two sides also agreed to a prisoner exchange last month that has yet to take place.