Middle East

Saudi and the Yemen war: UK PM asks King Salman to lift blockade, avoid ‘catastrophe’

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud walks with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May in Riyadh on Wednesday (Reuters)

British Prime Minister Theresa May has stressed to Saudi leaders that the blockade of Yemen needs to be eased urgently in order to “avert a humanitarian catastrophe", her office said on Thursday, while stressing the relationship between the kingdoms was strong and would endure.

"The prime minister made clear that the flow of commercial supplies… must be resumed if we are to avert a humanitarian catastrophe," it said after she met King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman late on Wednesday.

“They agreed that steps needed to be taken as a matter of urgency to address this and that they would take forward more detailed discussions on how this could be achieved,” the statement added.

A blockade on Yemen was introduced on 6 November, and only recently and partially lifted to allow some humanitarian deliveries into the country, which was struggling even before the Saudi-led war against in was launched in early 2015.

The United Nations has warned that unless the blockade is lifted, Yemen will face "the largest famine the world has seen for decades".

Seven million Yemenis are completely dependent on humanitarian supplies for their survival, according to the UN.

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For Saudi Arabia, it's been Operation Shoot Yourself In The Foot

Before her departure for the Middle East, May told the BBC she was going to “give a very clear message to Saudi Arabia” that the Yemeni port of Hodeida must be reopened to humanitarian supplies.

“I am very concerned about the humanitarian crisis that has developed in Yemen," she said.

Saudi Arabia is Britain's largest trading partner in the Middle East, and London has signed off on more than $4.4bn worth of arms sales to Riyadh since March 2015.

During that time a Saudi-led coalition has embarked on a bombing campaign in Yemen that has been condemned for contributing to a humanitarian disaster.

The war has killed about 10,000 people, while thousands more have died of cholera.

May and the king and crown prince “agreed the relationship between the UK and Saudi Arabia was strong and would endure,” the Downing Street statement added.

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