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UN agency may suspend aid in Houthi-held areas of Yemen

World Food Programme makes highly unusual threat, citing fighting, insecurity and interference in its work
The World Food Programme is feeding more than 10 million people across Yemen (MEE)

The World Food Programme (WFP) is considering suspending aid delivery in the areas under the control of Yemen's Houthi group because of fighting, insecurity and interference in its work, the UN agency said on Monday.

"Humanitarian workers in Yemen are being denied access to the hungry, aid convoys have been blocked and local authorities have interfered with food distribution," the WFP said in a statement. "This has to stop."

The highly unusual threat from the agency, which is feeding more than 10 million people across Yemen, reflected what it said were "obstacles that are being put in our way".

"We face daily challenges due to the unrelenting fighting and insecurity in Yemen," the statement read.

"And yet, our greatest challenge does not come from the guns, that are yet to fall silent in this conflict - instead, it is the obstructive and uncooperative role of some of the Houthi leaders in areas under their control."

The phased suspension of aid would be a last resort and nutrition activities directly targeting malnourished children and women would continue, the agency said.

'Let down by other Houthi leaders'

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are leading a western-backed coalition that intervened in Yemen in 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognised government ousted from power in Sanaa by the Houthis in late 2014.

The WFP said it previously worked with leaders to resolve problems, such as when the coalition delayed the movement of cranes to the key port of Hodeidah and cut food supplies by blockading the port.

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However, negotiations with Houthi leaders to open up access to hungry people had not yet brought tangible results, the agency said, although some had made positive commitments.

"Unfortunately, they [the Houthi leaders] are being let down by other Houthi leaders who have broken assurances they gave us on stopping food diversions and finally agreeing to a beneficiary identification and biometric registration exercise."

The WFP's threat of a partial pullout comes after fighting around Hodeidah marred an apparent diplomatic breakthrough by UN envoy Martin Griffiths, who got the Houthis to agree to a unilateral withdrawal of their forces from Hodeidah and two other ports earlier this month.

Since then Houthi fighters and Saudi-backed pro-government forces have battled in the port city, breaching a ceasefire and casting into doubt the full implementation of the plan for both sides' forces to move back from the port.

Ballistic missile launch denied

The Houthis' al-Masirah TV said on Tuesday that the rebels had targeted an arms depot at Najran airport in Saudi Arabia, which caused a fire to break out in the facility. 

Earlier, the Saudi-led coalition said a civilian facility in the province of Najran had been targeted with a drone carrying explosives. It did not mention casualties.

On Monday, the Houthis denied Saudi media reports that it had fired a ballistic missile towards Mecca, Islam's holiest site, at a time of heightened tensions between Tehran, which supports the rebels, and Gulf Arab states allied to Washington.