CAIRO (AP) — Yemen’s warring parties are obstructing the flow of crucial aid from the Red Sea port of Hodeida endangering millions in what is already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, an international rights group said. It urged the U.N. Security Council to impose “targeted sanctions” on those responsible for hampering humanitarian assistance and violating international law.
In a report titled “Stranglehold,” Amnesty International blamed Iran-backed rebels known as Houthis for “excessive and arbitrary bureaucratic procedures” that are restricting the movement of humanitarian workers and causing delays in aid delivery across Yemen.
Amnesty cited aid workers in its report as saying the rebels exert influence over who receives aid, where and by which organizations. They also said the Houthis work in a “fragmented manner” that hampers timely distribution of aid.
Several aid workers also described incidents in which the Houthis demanded money to approve aid projects or authorize deliveries, threatening “to cancel projects if a bribe was not paid.”
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The report released Thursday also said the coalition is carrying out “excessive” inspections of aid and imposing restrictions over the delivery of essential goods such as food, fuel and medical supplies into Yemen.
“The Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s unlawful restrictions on imports, coupled with the Houthis’ harmful interference with aid distribution, are preventing life-saving supplies from reaching Yemenis who desperately need them,” Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director Lynn Maalouf said.
Amnesty also called on both sides to allow “prompt and unhindered” humanitarian access to U.N. agencies and humanitarian organizations.
Impoverished Yemen has been devastated and pushed to the brink of famine by a stalemated three-year civil war that has left around two-thirds of Yemen’s population of 27 million relying on aid, and over 8 million at risk of starving. The port city of Hodeida is the main entry point for food, humanitarian aid and fuel supplies to Yemen.
Last week, the Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen’s internationally recognized government launched an offensive to retake rebel-held Hodeida. Fighting has been raging especially at and around the city’s airport, threatening to worsen Yemen’s humanitarian situation. Aid groups have repeatedly voiced fears that a protracted fight could shut down the port and potentially tip millions of people into starvation.
On Thursday, the U.N. envoy for Yemen reiterated concerns over “severe” humanitarian and political fallout if fighting intensifies but said he is confident a pact can be forged to prevent increased violence.