Rebel supporters flood streets of Yemeni capital on conflict anniversary

SANAA – Hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Yemen’s rebel-held capital Sunday in a show of support for the insurgents, two years after a Gulf coalition intervened against the rebels.

Sanaa: The Yemen conflict pits the Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies against government troops supported since March 2015 by a Saudi-led coalition.

The Iran-backed rebels staged a show of force over the weekend with the mass rally in Sanaa and a symbolic court ruling against Yemen’s embattled president.

Crowds converged on the capital’s Sabaeen Square on Sunday, chanting their vows to “resist to the end.”

The protest came a day after a rebel court in Sanaa sentenced President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to death for high treason in absentia.

The court found Hadi guilty of “usurping the title of president after the end of his term in office . . . instigating attacks by Saudi Arabia and undermining the independence and integrity of the Republic of Yemen,” the rebel-controlled Saba agency said.

Six members of the Hadi government were also sentenced to death.

Hadi, whose two-year term in office expired in February 2014, now lives in Saudi Arabia although he also visits his government’s temporary capital of Aden.

The president was placed under house arrest after the Houthis overran the capital in September 2014, and later fled to the southern port city of Aden.

The coalition intervened with airstrikes on March 26, 2015, after Houthis advanced on other parts of the country, including the port city.

Hadi’s forces have since gained ground in southern Yemen, but the Houthis still control the capital and strategic ports on the Red Sea coastline.

The government-run Saba news agency Sunday ran an editorial slamming the “rise of the Houthi militia” as an Iranian “plot” targeting Yemen and neighboring Saudi Arabia.

On Saturday, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a Houthi ally, slammed Saudi Arabia’s role in the conflict.

“Free Yemenis will continue to choose resistance, as long as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia continues to choose war,” Saba quoted Saleh as saying in a speech marking the two-year anniversary.

Rebel leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi said the coalition had been “living under the illusion that they can take Yemen in a week or a month . . . but have sunk into the mud.”

Home to one of al-Qaeda’s most dangerous branches, Yemen has a complex history of civil unrest.

The rebels had long complained of marginalization and in 2011 mobilized protests demanding economic and political reform that led to Saleh’s resignation the next year after decades in power.

But the Houthis and Saleh put their differences behind them in 2014, as the rebels took control of the capital with the support of troops still loyal to the former president.

More than 7,700 people have been killed and 3 million displaced in Yemen since March 2015, the United Nations says.

This month, 42 people, mainly Somali refugees, were killed when a boat transporting them out of Yemen came under an air attack off the main Red Sea port of Hodeida.

On Sunday, Human Rights Watch said there was evidence the attack may have come from the coalition and could amount to a war crime.

Saudi Arabia has denied involvement and called for the United Nations to take control of Hodeida port, which is currently in the hands of the Houthis.

The United Nations has described Yemen as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today, with fighting leaving millions desperate for food and shelter.

It says the country this year also faces a serious risk of famine.

Yemen on the brink of famine, says UN

A third of Yemen’s 22 provinces are on the brink of famine, the UN said on Friday, warning that 60 percent of the war-ravaged country’s population was going hungry. 

Yemen, long one of the world’s poorest nations, has seen its food security deteriorate dramatically since its civil war escalated two years ago after the intervention of a Saudi-led coalition. 

“We are deeply concerned that Yemen is on the brink of famine,” Bettina Luescher, a spokeswoman for the UN’s World Food Programme, told reporters in Geneva.

“Out of the 22 (provinces), seven are in emergency phase four, and that is one level before declaring a famine,” she said.

The WFP is currently providing food to around seven million in Yemen each month, she said, pointing out though that they account for fewer than half the 17 million said to be going hungry.

And even those lucky enough to get aid are not receiving all the nutrients they need, Luescher said, because full rations cannot be afforded.

“Lack of funding, the ongoing conflict, restricted movement of humanitarian aid workers are the major obstacles to get food and other assistance to the people,” she said. 

The Yemen conflict has left more than 10,000 dead and 40,000 wounded since the Saudi-led coalition joined the government side against Iran-backed rebels in March 2015, according to UN figures.

The UN human rights agency said Friday that at least 4,773 civilians had been killed over the past two years.

The conflict has dramatically affected food supply, with around 60 percent of Yemen’s population now considered to be struggling to find enough, up 20 percent from a year ago, Luescher said.

“That is why we are so concerned about the fact that the fighting is going on, that the ports often can’t operate, that bridges are being blown up, that trucks cannot go to areas,” she said. 

A famine is declared when 20 percent of the population faces “extreme food shortages with limited ability to cope”, World Health Organization spokesman Christian Lindmeier explained.

In addition, for a famine to be declared, acute malnutrition rates must exceed 30 percent for children under five, and there must be more than two deaths per 10,000 people or four deaths per 10,000 children per day, he said.

Yemen is one of four countries currently facing the risk of famine, alongside Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria, with more than 20 million facing starvation, according to the UN.

UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien earlier this month described the situation in Yemen as “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world”.

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