Houthi rebels block food from reaching civilians used as human shields

About 60 people trapped in rebel-held pocket of Hodeidah province for more than a year

epa07828262 Negotiators from Yemen’s government (L) and Houthi rebels (R) hold UN-mediated peace talks aboard a UN ship in the Red Sea off the coast of the city of Hodeidah, Yemen 08 September 2019. According to reports, negotiators from Yemen’s internationally recognized government and the Houthi rebels  have resumed UN-mediated peace talks aboard a UN ship in the Red Sea off Yemeni coast to discuss strengthening a ceasefire deal and activating a new procedure for de-escalation in Hodeidah.  EPA/STRINGER

Yemen's Houthi rebels have blocked another attempt to send aid to a group of starving civilians in Hodeidah province that they have been holding as human shields for more than a year.

A World Food Programme relief convoy arrived at a rebel-held pocket in Al Duraihimi on Thursday but was turned back despite earlier rebel assurances that it would be let through.

The convoy was stopped on the southern outskirts of Al Duraihimi and forced to return to Mokha city in southern Hodeidah province, a spokesperson for the pro-government Joint Forces in Hodeidah told The National.

Colonel Watha Al Dubaish said this was the fifth time the rebels refused to let aid reach the civilians.

“The rebels have been detaining 19 families in the centre of Al Duraihimi – about 59 civilians, most of them children, women and disabled elderly. They have used those people as human shields since August 2018, when our forces liberated 90 per cent of Al Duraihimi,” Col Al Dubaish said. “Our forces couldn’t launch the last push to take over the whole city because the Houthi rebels fortified in the centre refused to surrender and took those civilians as hostages.”

"They shoot at anyone who tries to flee the area and they planted landmines around the neighbourhood. So everybody stays, they have no other option," a former resident of Al Duraihimi who fled to a displacement camp in Al Khokhah in 2017 told The National.

Col Al Dubaish said rebel officials had gone back on an agreement to let the aid through during recent talks with government and UN representatives on implementing a ceasefire in Hodeidah city.

“The civilians have been living in very harsh conditions for more than a year. They are suffering from water and food shortages and have no access to any medical service.”

Col Al Dubaish said the rebels were refusing to surrender because they had large amounts of weapons stored in the neighbourhood that they had been trying to transfer to areas under their control on the southern outskirts of Hodeidah city.

Aid sent by the Emirates Red Crescent in April this year was stopped a kilometre away from the rebel-held area. The rebels refused to let the convoy come further or to allow the civilians to go and collect the supplies.

Col Al Dubaish called on rights organisations and the United Nations to pressure the Houthi rebels to let aid through.

“This is not the first time the rebels stopped the relief convoys from reaching the civilians, and they will not do so unless the UN seriously pressures them," he said. "They do not care even if all the detained civilians die.”