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The battle for Hodeidah: Saudis plan to pull the plug on Yemen's life support

The British government should stop cosying up to the Saudis and deter a possible attack on key port

If the initial blockade of humanitarian aid to Yemen wasn't enough to push the Houthi rebels there into submission, starving the civilian population through the destruction of Hodeidah port won't force surrender either.

The harsh reality is that the Houthi rebels do not represent the millions of Yemenis starved by the famine, and therefore will not end the war with the Saudi-led coalition if the famine is furthered by the destruction of the Red Sea port, which is responsible for bringing over 80 percent of humanitarian aid into Yemen.

In typical Conservative government fashion, the British government is shying away from confronting Saudi Arabia over a possible attack on Hodeidah, even though it is widely accepted by the international community that any attack on the port would cut off food and medical supplies to millions of innocent civilians.

While the United Nations can be as vocal as possible, major powers are still unwilling to explicitly oppose the potential Saudi offensive, leaving the United Nations Security Council limited in its ability to deter an attack.

The threat of starving civilians through an attack on the Houthi stronghold in Hodeida will not only do nothing to win the hearts and minds of Yemenis who are politically neutral, but is likely to put civilians who live in places previously considered largely safe at risk.

Worst humanitarian disaster

UN figures suggest over 100 people have already been killed in the battle for the port of Hodeidah, but the escalation of this aspect of the conflict bares larger consequences as 200,000 people are said to be at risk of being displaced, alongside the threat of 8.4 million people being affected by the famine if food supplies are suddenly cut off. 

In typical Conservative Government fashion, the British Government is shying away from confronting the Saudis over a possible attack on Hudaida, even though it is widely accepted by the international community that any attack would cut off food
Without a negotiated settlement, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen is paving the way for the largest humanitarian disaster of the 21st century. However, this would not be possible if the international community had intervened with action, through the UN, and not just empty rhetoric.

If we are serious about bringing about an end to this conflict, the priority of those in the international community that currently sell arms to the Saudis should be to suspend their arms export licenses immediately.

A catalogue of errors

In fact, British Prime Minister Theresa May's misleading suggestion that the war in Yemen had UN backing through Resolution 2216, which called for an end to the violence in Yemen, was somehow a tacit acceptance of a Saudi bombardment of the country until the Houthis capitulated. This is not only irresponsible but also legitimises a campaign that has deliberately targeted civilians.

Welcoming the Saudi leaders who are responsible for much of the military campaign to Downing Street only adds to the catalogue of foreign policy errors that the British government has been involved in during the conflict. 

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In the face of a war of attrition in Yemen, there will only be one outcome. With the economic and military strength of the Saudi regime, the Houthis will eventually collapse.

But the fact that the Saudi-led coalition is more than willing to pull the plug on Yemen's life support, in a blatant show of contempt for international law, will be a huge blow to the perceived authority of the United Nations in the Middle East, where its unique powers of neutrality-based action is currently needed the most.

The Labour Party has already committed to a complete suspension of British arms sales to the Saudis should it get into government. However, this policy would apply to any military that is flouting international law with British weapons. A comprehensive review of arms sales across the world is the only way to bring about real arms control and to protect international stability.

Labour would build a Britain that prides itself once again on its humanitarian approach to foreign policy. British foreign policy has been historically defined as one that is concerned with human welfare, based on international law.

Make no mistake, there is no justification for obstructing aid into Yemen, and if cosying up to the Saudis fails to deter a further incursion, the British government must change its approach.

- Tom Hinchcliffe is a communications manager for the Labour Party and former news editor.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Children protest against the Saudi-led coalition outside the UN offices in Sanaa (Reuters)

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