On Wednesday morning, despite warnings from the United Nations and humanitarian agencies about the devastating effects of doing so, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition supporting the government of Yemen started its assault on the port city of Hodeidah.
According to state media in the United Arab Emirates, a member of the Saudi coalition, the Golden Victory operation is intended to “liberate” the city from the anti-government Houthi rebels.
While the United States had expressed some reservations about the operation, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday gave what was seen as a very vague statement of approval for it, saying the Emeratis needed to “address their security concerns while preserving the free flow of humanitarian aid and life-saving commercial imports.”
The concern now is that nothing will be left of the densely populated city of roughtly 400,000, whose port shutdown facilitates the flow of 90 percent of the supplies coming into the country.
Yemen has been on the brink of famine for a couple years now as well as struggling with a deadly cholera epidemic. Any disruption to the already thin supply of food and medicine might totally push a country in the grips of a horrific humanitarian crisis that has left 400,000 children there malnourished, over the edge.
Humanitarian and human rights groups are alarmed about what’s happening, but their concerns have thus far fallen on deaf ears:
#Yemen can’t wait.
We’ve got food, medical supplies, water purification systems and sanitation supplies in Hodeida.
But these life-saving items cannot be given to those in need while fighting is ongoing.
— ICRC (@ICRC) June 13, 2018
1. Battle for Hodeida, home to hundreds of thousands of civilians, as well as #Yemen's most important port, has officially started.
Fight will impact millions.
— Kristine Beckerle (@K_Beckerle) June 13, 2018
Still, Saudi Arabia maintains that its activities are aimed at keeping weapons out of Houthi hands, with the Saudi ambassador to the United States maintaining that his country is in fact supporting humanitarian efforts in Yemen:
The Kingdom has been and will continue to be at the forefront of humanitarian efforts to support the brotherly people of Yemen.
— Khalid bin Salman خالد بن سلمان (@kbsalsaud) June 13, 2018
Doctors Without Borders, which is known by its French acronym MSF, had built the clinic, and the roof had clear markings indicating that it was a humanitarian medical facility.
MSF has temporarily frozen its activities there, with the head of its mission in Yemen, João Martin, expressing his outrage:
“This morning’s attack on an MSF cholera treatment center (CTC) by the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition (SELC) shows complete disrespect for medical facilities and patients. Whether intentional or a result of negligence, it is totally unacceptable. The compound was clearly marked as a health facility and its coordinates were shared with the SELC. With only half of health facilities in Yemen fully functional, nearly 10 million people in acute need, and an anticipated outbreak of cholera, the CTC had been built to save lives.”
The U.N. Human Rights Council in the fall voted to investigate Saudi Arabia for crimes against humanity in its role in Yemen, where in addition to clinics, it has targeted schools, community halls, and markets with its airstrikes.
According to the U.N.’s Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR), the three years or so of war has cost an estimated 6,385 civilian lives, with Saudi-led airstrikes being responsible for 60 percent of those deaths.
The United States has sold billions of dollars worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, while also supporting its participation in the war in Yemen with intelligence and refueling capacity.