By Jessica Corbett / Common Dreams
A United Nations special envoy on Tuesday raised alarm about the safety of civilians in war-torn Yemen given escalating violence, including airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition.
“The escalation in recent weeks is among the worst we have seen in Yemen for years and the threat to civilian lives is increasing,” said Hans Grundberg, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres’ special envoy for Yemen, in a statement.
“Airstrikes on Sanaa have resulted in loss of civilian lives, and damaged civilian infrastructure and residential areas,” he added. “The continued offensive on Marib and the continued missile attacks on the governorate are also resulting in civilian casualties, damage to civilian objects, and mass displacement.”
The U.N. Development Program projected last month that the death toll for the war in Yemen—including victims of “indirect” causes such as disease and hunger—will reach 377,000 by the end of this year, and an estimated 70% of those killed would be under the age of five.
Grundberg—who also expressed concern about attacks that killed civilians and caused damage in Saudi Arabia—emphasized that “any targeting of civilians and civilian objects as well as indiscriminate attacks by any actor is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and must stop immediately. The parties must also preserve the civilian character of public infrastructure.”
The special envoy stressed that he is ready “to work with the parties to find immediate solutions to de-escalate the violence, address urgent humanitarian needs, and enable a political process aimed at sustainably and comprehensively ending the conflict in Yemen.”
U.N. officials in recent years have called Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Grundberg highlighted the conditions long faced by people across the country.
“2021 is ending on a tragic note for Yemenis, millions of whom are struggling with poverty, hunger, and severe restrictions on their freedom of movement,” he said. “In this regard, I reiterate the United Nations’ call for the opening of Sanaa airport and for removing obstacles hindering Yemenis’ ability to move within or between governorates inside Yemen.”
France 24 reported Tuesday that the Houthi movement said “they have allowed the temporary resumption of U.N. flights into the capital’s Sanaa airport, a week after a halt due to Saudi-led coalition airstrikes.”
Flights into Sanaa International Airport, which is controlled by the Houthis, “have been largely halted by a Saudi-led blockade since August 2016,” the outlet noted, “but there have been exemptions for aid flights that are a key lifeline for the population.”
A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers earlier this month urged President Joe Biden to “exert diplomatic pressure to end the Saudi-led coalition’s ongoing closure” of the airport.
“The continued restriction of commercial and humanitarian flights into the airport has exacerbated the ongoing crisis in Yemen and had a devastating impact on millions of innocent Yemenis,” the lawmakers wrote, pointing out that restrictions on ports of entry “are a form of collective punishment in violation of international and U.S. law.”
Biden was lauded early in his presidency for reversing the designation of the Houthis as a terrorist organization, claiming to cut off U.S. support for the coalition’s “offensive operations,” and temporarily halting arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
However, the Biden administration has come under fire recently for approving a $650 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia—which the U.S. Senate recently declined to block, sparking fierce criticism of the upper chamber’s members across the political spectrum.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—who, along with two Republicans, led a resolution to block the transfer—said at the time that “as the Saudi government continues to wage its devastating war in Yemen and repress its own people, we should not be rewarding them with more arms sales.”