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UN aid chief calls for end to Saudi war on Yemen

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock speaks to the press in the Yemeni capital Sana'a on November 29, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

The UN aid chief has appealed for a halt to fighting in Yemen amid intense diplomacy to end the ongoing Saudi aggression that has pushed millions to the brink of famine. 

UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock made appeal during a press briefing after arriving in the Yemeni capital Sana’a on Thursday.

"I'd like to see a cessation of hostilities, especially around the key infrastructure, especially around Hudaydah," Lowcock said

The UN official said the fighting has once again highlighted the ongoing humanitarian tragedy in the war-ravaged Arab country.

"I have come because I am very concerned about the humanitarian situation here, which has deteriorated since I was here last."

Lowcock, who last visited Yemen in October 2017, called on authorities in Sana’a to improve the environment in which the aid agencies operate.

"I'd like to see the environment, in which the aid system operates, made easier for the aid agencies,” he said.

"I would like to see stronger economic support, more resources injected into the economy, salaries paid, more foreign exchange so that ordinary people have more money to buy the essentials to survive," he said.

Lowcock will spend three days in Yemen to see first-hand the world's worst humanitarian crisis. He is expected to hold talks with officials in Sana’a and the southern city of Aden, which is controlled by forces loyal to former Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.

According to the United Nations, operations at Yemen's lifeline port of Hudaydah have dropped by almost 50 percent over the past two weeks, with shipping companies deterred by insecurity and ongoing Saudi attacks in the flashpoint city.

The UN's World Food Program said on Tuesday that a drop in the arrival of wheat and other supplies would affect food stocks in Yemen where 14 million people are facing possible  starvation after nearly four years of war.

UN agencies say the closure of the port would exacerbate the humanitarian crisis gripping the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country.

The developments come as the UN peace envoy Martin Griffiths is hoping to bring warring factions to Sweden in the coming days for negotiations on ending conflict.

Talks to start in Sweden next week

Britain’s envoy to Yemen said on Thursday that UN-sponsored peace talks between Yemen’s warring parties are expected to start next week in Sweden.

“The Sweden consultations led by the UN envoy will take place next week ... the political solution is the way to move forward,” said Michael Aron, the Riyadh-based British ambassador to Yemen.

Yemen's popular Houthi Ansarullah movement, which has been defending the nation against the Saudi Arabian war, said last week they were halting drone and missile attacks, responding to a demand from the UN.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have halted their offensive on Hudaydah, although skirmishes continue on the outskirts. The kingdom has also stepped up its air raids after its ground offensive faced a stiff resistance by the city's protectors.

Ansarullah has warned that the rise in Saudi assaults on Hudaydah could frustrate efforts by Griffiths to rekindle peace talks in Sweden next week.

The outrage over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul has increased scrutiny on Riyadh’s role in conflicts in the region.

Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on the Trump administration over supporting the kingdom in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder.

US President Donald Trump has thrown his support behind Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who reportedly ordered the assassination of the dissident journalist and Washington Post columnist at the Saudi consulate in Turkey last month.

The US, Britain and France are major arms suppliers to Saudi Arabia and human rights groups have called on the governments to cease such sales due to the high civilian death toll in Saudi air raids in Yemen.

According to UN figures, the Yemen conflict has killed nearly 10,000 people and left up to 22 million in need of humanitarian assistance.

An independent conflict research group has estimated that 56,000 have been killed since January 2016 which does not include those who have died from hunger and disease.

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