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18 Dec, 2017 12:41

Britain speaks out as Saudi-led coalition strangles aid route into Yemen

Britain might begin standing up to Saudi Arabia over the Yemen crisis. A top Tory minister signaled London could be losing patience with its major Middle East ally and will begin to lean on Riyadh.

The Saudi Kingdom has imposed restrictions which are strangling aid routes into Yemen, in a move which could push the country into the “worst famine in decades.” Secretary of State for International Development Penny Mordaunt said Britain supports the Saudi-led coalition’s right to screen shipments but added there was “no excuse” for blocking checked vessels.

She hinted at tough action from Britain as she said the nation cannot “carry on as we have been.”

Speaking to the Telegraph she said: “It is very clear that if you are using starvation as a weapon you are in breach of international humanitarian law. And what I have seen on my visit is that what is being held up is aid.”

“Unless this gets through we think that about 150,000 children may perish in the next few months. Already about 400,000 are severely malnourished and the death rate is going to increase dramatically if we don’t get food, but also critically fuel, in as well.”

Mordaunt met with met Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir and commander of the Saudi-led coalition forces Prince Fahad bin Turki, as well as other officials, to insist that the coalition clear the way for boats bound for the Yemeni ports of Hodeidah and Saleef.

Ports controlled by Houthi rebels are cut off by the Saudi-led blockades but civilians in the war zone are suffering as food, fuel, and medical supplies fail to reach them.

Britain’s clout over Saudi Arabia has not been greatly tested recently, but the demands from Mordaunt will indicate just how strong ties are.

“She received assurances that swift action would be taken and will be reviewing this closely,” the Department for International Development (Dfid) said in a statement after the talks.

The kingdom is at the helm of a coalition backing the Yemeni government as they attempt to drive Houthi rebels from the country.

The battle has been raging since March 2015 but intensified in recent weeks when routes into rebel-held areas were cut off.

Vessels were being checked by the United Nations (UN) over fears weapons were being stashed in crates of food and medical supplies. But Riyadh said they were failing and added further restrictions which have created a bottleneck.

Among the victims of the war are an estimated three million women and children suffering from malnutrition. Deadly illnesses also stalk the land, with perhaps one million contracting cholera in what is believed to be the world’s worst extant outbreak.

Last week Mordaunt announced £50 million of additional aid to Yemen in a bid to get food to 3.4 million people.

“I’ve got a good understanding of how it all works, and I will be going to my meetings [on Sunday] to say what I have seen today. Which is that there should be no excuse for not letting cleared ships into Hodeidah,” she told the Telegraph.

“I very much understand the strategic importance of our relationship with Saudi Arabia.

"But we do not help that relationship by not speaking about the facts of the matter,” she said.

“If there were to be a breach of international humanitarian law, that would put that relationship into difficulty.”

Britain has repeatedly urged the Saudis to allow aid into Yemen.

Mordaunt’s visit came two weeks after Theresa May raised concerns over the Yemen blockade in a meeting with the Crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman.