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Officials: Saudis Tighten Yemen Blockade, Flights Grounded

Image: Officials: Saudis Tighten Yemen Blockade, Flights Grounded
Cooking gas cylinders are lined up outside a gas station amid supply shortage in Sanaa, Yemen. (Reuters) 

Tuesday, 07 Nov 2017 09:22 AM

CAIRO — Tensions escalated between Saudi Arabia and Yemen's Houthi rebels on Tuesday, as humanitarian flights to the country were grounded and ships ordered to leave, resulting in immediate price hikes on the streets of the capital, Sanaa.

The cancelations came amid concerns the already dire humanitarian situation could be exacerbated and that Yemen appeared to be heading into total isolation from the outside world.

A United Nations official told The Associated Press its flights were canceled and the world body was seeking "to resolve the issue as soon as possible." She spoke on condition of anonymity because she wasn't authorized to speak to the media.

Saudi Arabia intensified its blockade on Yemen, closing down all traffic to Yemen's air and sea ports and closing land crossings. It also said that the closure will take into consideration "the continuation of the entry and exit of humanitarian supplies and crews."

The Saudi-led coalition called upon all Yemenis and humanitarian missions in Houthi-held territories to avoid combat operations. There was no sign that U.N. missions were evacuating the northern region.

Yemen, a country of 26 million, was already on its knees from two years of war that began after Shiite Houthi rebels forced the internationally recognized government to flee and seek support from neighboring gulf countries. In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition began what turned into a devastating war that has killed thousands, displaced millions and left the country caught in vicious cycles of deadly epidemics.

The blockade resulted in nearby Djibouti becoming the major transit point for humanitarian flights to Yemen. Before departing the tiny country in the Horn of Africa, U.N. agencies obtain permits from the coalition.

But with the latest measures, flights weren't given clearance to leave Djibouti, according to the Doctors Without Borders relief agency.

The latest tension arises on the heels of a brazen assault by Houthis on Saudi Arabia when they fired a ballistic missile at Riyadh international airport. The Saudis called it an "act of war" by Iran through their alleged proxy the Houthis.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency carried the remarks Tuesday in an article about a call between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson.

Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of supplying the ballistic missile that the Houthi rebels and their allies fired toward Riyadh's international airport on Saturday night. Iran, which supports the Houthis but denies arming them, says it had nothing to do with the attack.

Houthi-linked Army spokesman Col. Aziz Rashed told reporters in the Yemeni capital that Houthis will continue to target Saudi and UAE airports, warning travelers and travel agencies to stay away from them as they are considered "legitimate targets." Rashed claimed that his military experts are able to develop missiles with ranges that exceed 1,500 kilometers (932 miles).

In Sanaa's streets, drivers lined up in long queues in front of a number of fuel stations, fearing the shut-down of the ports will only increase the already severe fuel shortage in the city. In no time, prices of fuel already hiked from 5,500 riyal (about $20.7) to nearly 6,700 riyals (about $25) per liter. The Oil Ministry, controlled by the Houthis, issued a statement assuring residents they have enough fuel in storage.

In an interview with AP in New York on Monday night, the head of the World Food Program warned things will get worse with a prolonged, tightened blockade. David Beasley said his agency not only has trucks and planes grounded but also ships in the port of Hodeida and "the Saudi-led coalition is saying, 'get them out.'"

Of Yemen's 17 million people who are food insecure, the WFP is only reaching 7 million Yemenis due to lack of funds and access by Houthis and coalition alike, he said.

"They hardly have food now. And if we are denied this access, even for two weeks, I can't imagine hundreds of thousands of children's lives are not going to be on the brink of starvation," Beasley said.

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Tensions escalated between Saudi Arabia and Yemen's Houthi rebels on Tuesday, as humanitarian flights to the country were grounded and ships ordered to leave, resulting in immediate price hikes on the streets of the capital, Sanaa....
ML, Yemen
Tuesday, 07 Nov 2017 09:22 AM
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