Saudi Arabia Should Lift Its Yemen Blockade

It's keeping desperately needed aid from millions of noncombatants.
From

He needs help.

Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia has reacted to the killing of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen by intensifying its bombing campaign there. A more suitable response -- tactically, strategically and morally -- would be to lift its blockade preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid to millions of suffering Yemenis.

There are no heroes in the civil war between Houthi rebels, who have Iranian backing and were responsible for killing Saleh, and the Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen's government. Both sides have inflicted death and suffering on civilians. The Saudi coalition currently has a partial blockade on ports and airfields controlled by the Houthis.

Hostilities have already killed or wounded at least 14,000 people in nearly three years, and countless others have died from disease and starvation. Some 1 million people have contracted cholera in part because the lack of fuel has affected the ability to pump clean water. Three million of Yemen's 28 million people are refugees in their own country, and nearly 200,000 have fled to neighboring countries.

Saleh's death is likely to prolong this civil war and the debate over how to end it. Neither should prevent the Saudi coalition from permitting the resumption of commercial deliveries of food, fuel and medicines to Yemen's Red Sea ports, as the UN has urgently requested. To its credit, the coalition has already allowed limited humanitarian shipments. The UN has offered to work with the coalition to prevent shipments from being used to smuggle in arms.

Meanwhile, the world must do more to fund the UN relief effort, which has been barely half-subscribed. The U.S. leads the pack, although its contributions are dwarfed by U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Russia, which aspires to reclaim Great Power status in the Middle East, has kicked in a paltry $1 million; Iran, its partner in Syrian crime, has contributed nothing.

Neither history nor a recently empowered UN human rights body is likely to look kindly on the Saudis' reaction to Saleh's death. The better way to win the hearts and minds of your neighbors is to help noncombatants to survive, and thus one day rebuild their shattered nation.

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