Middle East

UK reiterates condemnation of Saudi blockade of Yemen

Yemeni tribesmen from the Popular Resistance Committees during clashes with Houthis in the Shabwa province, on 15 December (AFP)

The UK has reiterated its condemnation of the Saudi blockade on Yemen, saying there is “no excuse” for preventing the delivery of aid.

On a visit to Saudi Arabia and Djibouti, the British international development secretary Penny Mourdant warned that “using starvation as a weapon” was a breach of humanitarian law, according to the Press Association.

Calling the situation in Yemen “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” Mourdant was promising a new aid package to the country, which collapsed into civil war in early 2015, with a Saudi-led coalition propping up the fight against the rebel Houthis.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, on a visit to Saudi Arabia in late November, said that the blockade must be fully lifted.

"The prime minister made clear that the flow of commercial supplies… must be resumed if we are to avert a humanitarian catastrophe," a statement from her office said.

“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 rebels 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.

Speaking in Djibouti, from where UK aid is shipped to Yemen, Mordaunt said: “The harrowing stories I have heard from Yemenis and aid workers today are a powerful reminder of the human tragedy of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis where three-quarters of the population are in desperate need.

“Every day, parents are carrying their malnourished children to hospital because they haven’t eaten in days, and families are watching as loved ones die needlessly from treatable illnesses because they do not have access to medical care.

“UK aid will save lives with new food and fuel – fuel that will produce food, pump clean water to help stop the spread of cholera, and power hospital generators.”

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.

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