Yemen port, airport to reopen for aid delivery

A Yemeni child being treated at a hospital in the capital Sana’a this week. The UN has warned that war-wracked Yemen faces mass famine unless aid deliveries are allowed to enter the impoverished country.
A Yemeni child being treated at a hospital in the capital Sana’a this week. The UN has warned that war-wracked Yemen faces mass famine unless aid deliveries are allowed to enter the impoverished country. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Saudi-led coalition reopens key Red Sea port after blockade following missile hit on Riyadh

RIYADH • The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said it would reopen a key Red Sea port and Sana'a airport to aid, after a blockade of more than two weeks following a missile attack on Riyadh.

The coalition on Wednesday said it would reopen Hodeida port to receive "urgent humanitarian and relief materials" and Sana'a airport to United Nations aircraft from midday yesterday. It did not specify when or if it would ease a blockade on commercial traffic.

Citing unnamed sources, Reuters yesterday reported that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had asked Saudi Arabia to ease its blockade of Yemen.

It was not clear if pressure from Washington was the direct cause of the Saudi change of heart but the request from Mr Tillerson to Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was one of several attempts by the United States this month to have Riyadh soften its hawkish foreign policy.

Hodeida, which is controlled by Houthi rebels backed by Saudi Arabia's arch-rival Iran, is a key conduit for much-needed food and medicine imports to Yemen.

The coalition imposed a total blockade of Yemen's ports and airports two days after the Houthis fired a missile at Saudi Arabia on Nov 4.

The missile was intercepted near Riyadh's King Khalid International Airport, sparking a war of words between Teheran and Riyadh, which accused Iran of "direct aggression" and supplying arms to the Houthis.

The UN on Wednesday said it had been notified by the Saudi authorities of the reopening of the Yemeni ports of Hodeida and Saleef, as well as Sana'a airport.

"We are monitoring these developments and we are trying to see whether that actually takes place on the ground," UN spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York. "Of course, if that were to happen that would be a very welcome and critically important development."

Aid group Save the Children welcomed the coalition's announcement but said opening the port and airport would be "nowhere near enough to avert a potential famine in Yemen".

"Humanitarian relief only provides a small portion of the essential goods needed in Yemen - commercial supplies are critical to feed the population and keep basic services running," it said.

UN aid chief Mark Lowcock called on Nov 8 for the blockade to be lifted, warning that Yemen would otherwise face "the largest famine the world has seen for decades".

The Houthi government on Tuesday announced the country's main international airport was fully functional again a week after a Saudi-led air strike destroyed the facility's navigation system. The airport had been open to only select humanitarian flights.

Allied with Yemeni strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Iran-backed Houthi rebels control the capital Sana'a along with much of northern Yemen.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia and its allies joined the Yemeni government's fight against the rebels. More than 8,750 people have since been killed.

The country also faces a deadly cholera epidemic.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2017, with the headline 'Yemen port, airport to reopen for aid delivery'. Print Edition | Subscribe