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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

In setback for humanitarian work, Houthis stop UN aid chief from entering Taez city

The UN said Stephen O’Brien was extremely disappointed that humanitarian efforts to reach people in need were once again thwarted by parties to a conflict, 'especially at a time when millions of Yemenis are severely food-insecure and face the risk of famine'.
United Nations undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs Stephen O'Brien was prevented by the Houthi rebels from entering Taez city on February 28, 2017. Khaled Abdullah/Reuters
United Nations undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs Stephen O'Brien was prevented by the Houthi rebels from entering Taez city on February 28, 2017. Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

ADEN // Yemen’s Houthi rebels on Tuesday blocked the United Nation’s aid chief from entering Taez city where he was to assess the humanitarian situation there.

“Despite all parties’ assurances, we were denied access on front line from Ibb to Taez city today. Lack of access = more suffering”, tweeted Stephen O’Brien, the UN’s undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator.

Yemen’s official news agency Saba reported that the Houthis fired on Mr O’Brien’s convoy when he was at the western entrance of Taez city.

Mr O’Brien was refused passage at the final checkpoint when his convoy tried to cross over to Taez city from the front line of Ibb. “After being denied access, the convoy returned to safer ground to continue negotiating access with the authorities controlling the final checkpoint, to no avail,” said the UN. “Mr O’Brien was extremely disappointed that humanitarian efforts to reach people in need were once again thwarted by parties to a conflict, especially at a time when millions of Yemenis are severely food-insecure and face the risk of famine.”

The governor of Taez province, Ali Al Ma’amari — a government loyalist and supporter of president Hadi — had called on Mr O’Brien to visit the city to observe the humanitarian needs and suffering of residents in Taez city and its outskirts.

The Houthis have refused to allow residents or humanitarian aid to enter Taez city from the western outskirts, an area under rebel control.

But humanitarian aid and residents can still enter the city from the south-west, which was liberated by pro-government forces in August 2016.

On Sunday, Mr O’Brien met president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi and other government officials in Aden, where the headquarters of the internationally-recognised government is based temporarily.

“We discussed the deteriorating humanitarian situation and the suffering of the Yemeni people,” the UN aid chief said after the meeting. “I stressed the need for all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law, protect civilians and civilian infrastructure and to allow for unimpeded and immediate full access by humanitarian partners to all of Yemen.”

Jaleela Hasan, a social activist in Taez province who has visited victims of the war in several areas, said there were many reasons why the Iran-backed rebels did not want Mr O’Brien and his team to enter Taez.

“The Houthis forced civilians to leave their houses, bombed many houses and killed civilians. Their shelling has not stopped in two years. They prevent humanitarian aid from entering the city and they commit many other crimes in the city — that is why they prevented O’Brien from entering Taez,” she said.

“I was so happy that O’Brien was coming to Taez, but shocked to know that the Houthis prevented him. Now I am calling on him to enter Taez, coming from Aden. Then he can see everything with his own eyes.”

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

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