‘Millions of lives at risk’: Humanitarian groups urge Saudi-led coalition to spare Yemeni civilians

Halting operations at the crucial Hodeidah port would have an enormous impact on people all across Yemen, humanitarian agencies have warned, urging the warring parties to spare innocent lives in their battle for the Red Sea city.

“Hodeidah is a lifeline for millions and millions of Yemenis,” Iolanda Jaquemet, a spokeswoman from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told On Events. “Should this aid not be able to flow into this port, it will put at risk millions of lives.”

“The assault risks exacerbating an already catastrophic situation in Yemen,” she added, noting that three out of four Yemenis are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.

At dawn on Wednesday, the Saudi-led Arab coalition began the long-anticipated ground, naval, and air campaign against Houthi rebels in Hodeidah, trying to recapture the strategic port. After the first day of fighting, the coalition failed to capture the Red Sea city or to take possession of its airport. Despite the fighting, the port continues to operate, management of the port said, while the UN confirmed an aid delivery on Wednesday.

Shutting down the operations of the “main lifeline for the population in Yemen,” which receives approximately 80 percent of all Yemeni imports, including the bulk of humanitarian goods, will have “huge humanitarian implications,” Joao Martins, head of the Doctors without Borders (MSF) mission in Yemen, told Eyes On Events.

“The hampering of the function of the seaport will for sure have an impact on the population's living conditions and the capacity for them to cope with the current crisis,” he added.

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Potential casualties among the city's population of 400,000 remain the biggest concern of the humanitarian agencies, as well as the UN, which has called on the warring parties to spare civilian lives. Jaquemet reminded the warring parties that they are obliged by international law to “spare civilians” as well as to offer safe passage for those who are trying to flee the war zone.

“It is extremely important that hospitals be spared, that civilians be spared, and that those who might want to flee Hodeidah because of the fighting be allowed to do so safely,” the ICRC spokeswoman told Eyes On Events.

“We need the warring parties to respect the humanitarian organizations, to respect the population, to respect international humanitarian law and, above all, allow the population access to food, to water, to healthcare, to education,” Martins added.

“The assault on Hodeidah could have a devastating impact for hundreds of thousands of civilians – not just in the city but throughout Yemen,” Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director Lynn Maalouf said in a statement. “With an estimated 600,000 people living in and around Hodeidah, all sides to the conflict must take all feasible precautions to ensure that the civilian population is protected."

“Under international humanitarian law, parties to the conflict have to do everything possible to protect civilians and ensure they have access to the assistance they need to survive,” Lise Grande, UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, told Reuters by email.

“Further military escalation will have serious consequences on the dire humanitarian situation in the country and will have an impact on my efforts to resume political negotiations to reach an inclusive political settlement to the conflict in Yemen. I cannot overemphasize that there is no military solution to the conflict,” the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen said in a statement.

As the fighting continues, the Saudi led-coalition unveiled a “multi-faceted plan” to protect civilians in Hodeidah, which allegedly includes aid shipments from Saudi Arabia’s southern city of Jizan and the UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi, AP reported.

Meanwhile, the battle for the last remaining lifeline continues, after some 2,000 troops from UAE's Eritrean naval base landed west of Hodeidah to seize the port, AP reported.

“We foiled a sea landing of Saudi and Emirati forces near the port of Hodeidah,” Dayfallah al-Shami, a member of the Houthi movement’s political bureau, told the al-Mayadeen. “The Saudi coalition has not advanced at all in Hodeidah.”

According to Houthis, their forces repelled the attack and managed to destroy a Saudi-led coalition warship using two missiles. “The coalition warship was burned and other battleships retreated after seeing the fire,” the statement said, according to Saba news agency. Emirati state news agency WAM announced that four UAE soldiers were killed on Wednesday in Yemen.

Besides naval and ground assaults, Saudi-led jets launched more than 10 strikes on Hodeidah province, including targets in civilian areas, Saba noted, in a separate report. Four civilians were reportedly killed and at least two more injured in those airstrikes.

In the meantime, the United Nations Security Council will urgently meet on Thursday, reportedly following a request from the United Kingdom, which, alongside the US, is quite ironically one of Saudi Arabia’s top arms suppliers and has repeatedly been accused of hypocritically profiteering from the conflict in Yemen.

The Saudi-led coalition has been waging a brutal military campaign in Yemen since March 2015, trying to restore former president Hadi to power. Three years of Saudi-led bombardment and a blockade of Yemen has led to the near-collapse of the country. Some 22 million people, or 80 percent of the Yemeni population, are in need of humanitarian aid, while more than half of the country is left without basic medical services.

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