Saudi Arabia blames Houthi rebels for Yemen humanitarian situation

Saudi foreign minister says Iran-backed rebels besiege civilian areas as aid agencies warn thousands will die unless supplies enter the country

Displaced Yemeni children sit outside their makeshift shelter in an empty lot in the Yemeni coastal city of Hodeidah on November 16, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / ABDO HYDER

Saudi Arabia on Thursday blamed Houthi rebels of causing starvation in Yemen as aid agencies warned thousands would die unless more supplies were allowed into the country.

Foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir accused the Iran-backed Houthis of besieging civilian areas and preventing supplies from coming in or out.

“That’s why you have the starvation that’s taking place in Yemen and people need to do a more serious job of holding Houthis accountable for this,” he told Reuters.

Saudi Arabia leads a coalition of Arab countries fighting with Yemeni troops to restore the internationally recognised government to power.

Last week, the coalition shut down Yemen's sea and air ports as well as borders after a missile attack by the rebels near Riyadh.

The coalition has partially eased some restrictions on ports controlled by the Yemeni government, but international charities have called for more to be done to allow a free flow of aid into the country.

Save the Children said late on Wednesday an estimated 130 children or more die every day in Yemen  from extreme hunger and disease. It said more than 50,000 children are believed to have died in 2017.

On Thursday, the leaders of the World Health Organisation, the UN children's agency and the World Food Programme issued a joint appeal for the further easing of restrictions at the ports.

"The space and access we need to deliver humanitarian assistance is being choked off, threatening the lives of millions of vulnerable children and families," they said.

Saudi Arabia has since said that aid can go through government-held ports but not Houthi-controlled Hodeidah on the Red Sea coast.

With Agence France-Presse and Reuters