DUBAI (Reuters) - The Saudi-led military coalition fighting in Yemen said it will continue to block the main aid route into the country until it is satisfied its Houthi opponents cannot use it to bring in weapons.
The coalition closed all air, land and sea access to Yemen last week following the interception of a missile fired toward the Saudi capital, saying it had to stem the flow of arms to the Houthis from Iran.
Aid agencies warned the move would worsen the humanitarian crisis in the country, where the war has left an estimated seven million people facing famine.
Ports controlled by Yemen’s exiled government would reopen soon, the coalition said on Sunday in a statement issued by the Saudi mission at the United Nations.
However other ports, including Houthi-controlled Hodeidah — where some 80 percent of Yemen’s food supplies enter — will remain closed until a U.N. verification regime is reviewed to ensure no weapons reach the Houthis, the statement said.
“The coalition, in consultation and full agreement with the legitimate government, will begin steps related to re-opening of airports and ports in Yemen to allow the transport of humanitarian and commercial cargo,” the statement said.
It said the first steps will start within 24 hours and will include the southern ports of Aden and Mukalla and the Red Sea port of al-Mokha, which are all controlled by Hadi’s government.
The coalition asked U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to send a delegation to Riyadh to “review current inspection measures to reinforce and introduce a more effective inspection and verification regime (UNVIM) aimed at facilitating the flow of humanitarian and commercial supplies and prevent smuggling of weapons, ammunition and missile parts...”
Saudi Arabia has accused arch-foe Iran of supplying the ballistic missile which was shot down near Riyadh airport without causing any casualties. Iran has denied the accusation.
The United Nations and international aid organizations have repeatedly criticized the coalition in the past for blocking aid access, especially to the north, which is held by the Iran-aligned Houthis battling the Saudi-led coalition.
More than 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which pits the internationally recognized government, backed by Saudi Arabia and its allies, against the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The Saudi-led coalition has been targeting the Houthis since they seized parts of Yemen in 2015, including the capital Sanaa, forcing President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee and seek help from neighboring Saudi Arabia.
Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Toby Chopra