The UN security council has rejected a move to demand an immediate end to the fighting around the strategic Yemeni port of Hodeidah despite warnings from aid agencies that an attack could jeopardise vital aid to a country on the brink of famine.
The 15-strong body failed to agree to a statement calling on forces led by Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates to implement a ceasefire, with the US and UK both voicing opposition to the text introduced by Sweden.
The council instead called for restraint and “urged all sides to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law” in fighting for the city currently held by rebel Houthi forces. Pro-government forces backed by the UAE and Saudi Arabia began an assault on Wednesday.
The Swedish UN ambassador, Carl Skau, said: “It is time for the security council to call for an immediate freeze of the military attack on Hodeidah to give the special envoy and United Nations-led efforts a chance to avert disaster and find a sustainable political solution to the conflict.”
David Miliband, chief executive of the International Rescue Committee speaking on the BBC Today programme, backed the Swedes and challenged claims Hodeidah’s port and humanitarian aid could be protected in an attack, saying there was “a great danger of besiegement and long-term urban warfare”.
He said the Saudi-led coalition, backing Yemen’s exiled government against the Houthi rebels, had repeatedly failed to make the military progress it had predicted since it entered the war in 2015. “The immiseration of the Yemini people is quite extraordinary: 22 million in need of humanitarian need; 8 million at risk of starvation; 50,00 died last year from cholera or cholera-related diseases,” he said.
The impasse at the UN at least keeps the option of a direct attack on the port open for the Saudi-led coalition, but it is aware that a destructive attack could lead to a massive backlash from western aid agencies and governments.
Arab warplanes and warships on Thursday pounded Houthi positions in the south of Hodeidah with more than 40 fighters reported killed. But there was no direct attack on the port itself to the north-west of the city and the Saudi coalition said the aim was to keep the port functional.
Aware of public dismay about an attack, Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE ambassador to the UN, insisted the military offensive was “a deliberate, carefully prepared and executed operation”.
Saudi Arabia’s UN ambassador, Abdallah al-Mouallimi, added: “Our desire in Hodeidah is not to infuriate the Houthis or to kill as many of them as we possibly can. To the contrary, we have allowed them safe passage to the north of the city if they want to drop their arms and leave.”
He also challenged reports calling Hodeida “a lifeline to Yemen for humanitarian aid”, arguing there were nine ports in Yemen and two in Saudi Arabia that could reach those in need.
The security council’s refusal to call for a ceasefire suggests the UK, US and France have accepted the Saudi and UAE claim that jeopardising aid flows is a justifiable risk if Houthi forces can be ejected from the port city.
It will fuel claims, led by the former Conservative international development secretary Andrew Mitchell, that Britain is not acting as an honest broker on Yemen at the UN, but siding with the Saudi due to the UK’s strong commercial links with the Gulf States.
The UK ambassador to the UN, Karen Pierce, denied Britain was giving a green light to the Saudis for commercial reasons. She said: “We make our own decisions in the security council and we make them on the basis of the British national interest including wider issues of security. The most important aspect is to secure a political settlement.”
Critics of the Saudi-UAE assault say it has been timed to scupper the peace initiative of the UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, who was due to publish his peace plan on Monday and had been trying to negotiate a Houthi withdrawal from the port in return for the UN taking charge.
The UAE argues privately that capture of Hodeidah will deprive Houthis of as much as $30m-$40m (£22.6m-£30.1m) in revenue and force them to negotiate. It also claims the port has been used to smuggle weapons from Iran, including missile parts used to fire into Saudi Arabia.
The UAE also revealed the US had rejected its request for intelligence, minesweeping and airborne reconnaissance assets for the Hodeidah attack. Its officials said France had agreed to provide minesweeping support for the operation.
The French government stressed minesweeping operations would only be carried out after the port had been freed and it was not involved in any operations during the conflict.
Stressing the threat to food supplies, Lise Grande, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said: “Dozens of UN staff are in the city helping to deliver food, water and health services. We estimate that 600,000 civilians are in the city – many of whom are dependent on assistance to survive.”
Adama Dieng, the UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide, said: “Starvation of civilians as a method of war is a war crime and was condemned by the security council in resolution 2417 of 24 May 2018.
“It seems that the first test of this resolution is Yemen: Hodeidah is a lifeline for the delivery of aid and the coalition’s air strikes can kill many more people over time through famine and hunger when damaging such civilian infrastructure.”
Source : theguardian