President Donald Trump on Wednesday asked Saudi Arabia to immediately lift its blockade of Yemen to allow humanitarian aid to flow into the starving, war-ravaged country.
“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,” the president said in a statement. “This must be done for humanitarian reasons immediately.”
A coalition of Persian Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia is engaged in a bombing campaign against Houthi rebels who overthrew Yemen’s Saudi-friendly government in 2014. The war has turned into one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises since the Saudi-led coalition began airstrikes the following year.
Under persistent bombing and a military blockade by the coalition, thousands of civilians in the capital of Sanaa and other Houthi-controlled areas have been killed by airstrikes, starvation and disease. The blockade has resulted in shortages of fuel and food, leading to a dire situation where one in four people in the the nation of 28 million is starving, reports Reuters, citing a United Nations estimate.
Although the conflict began as a civil war between Shiite Houthis and the government of Saudi-backed former President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, it has morphed into a proxy battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which has lent support to the Houthis.
The extent of Iranian support to the Houthis has been debated, but the U.S. and Britain have assisted the Saudi-led coalition with intelligence and refueling support for its airstrikes. Critics say the Trump administration, which has forged close ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has not done enough to restrain Saudi Arabia’s actions in the worsening conflict.
The humanitarian crisis in Yemen reached a low in November, after the Houthis shot a missile into the Saudi capital of Riyadh. The Saudis responded by shutting down all of Yemen’s ports, preventing any shipments from entering the country.
After international outcry, Saudi Arabia reopened some Yemeni ports under its control, but only a small fraction of needed food and fuel aid is flowing to areas affected by famine.
On Wednesday, the Saudi coalition stepped up airstrikes against Houthi positions as the rebels tightened their control on Sanaa. Fighting has intensified since former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, an erstwhile Houthi ally who had turned on the group, was killed in an attack on his convoy last week.
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