Trump Urges Saudi Arabia To End Yemen Blockade And Allow Humanitarian Aid Into The Country

If Saudi Arabia complies, it could save civilian lives in the war-torn country.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump applied pressure on Saudi Arabia to lift a blockade of goods into Yemen.

It was an unexpected move from an administration that has made efforts to publicly embrace Saudi Arabia since the 2016 election. Critics have lambasted Trump for supporting Saudi Arabia, who they believe has made the situation in Yemen far worse for civilians by intervening in the country's civil war. 

The Saudi blockade of the Red Sea ports and airports in Yemen is, according to the United Nations, leading to a "catastrophic famine." Even before the war, Yemen was considered one of the poorest nations on the planet. Bloomberg reports that two out of three Yemenis aren't getting enough food to survive, and the absence of medicine and clean water has led to deadly outbreaks of cholera. More than 14,000 people have died since the Saudis began an offensive in 2015 and three million of the 28 million people living in Yemen have been "internally displaced," the U.N. said.

"I have directed officials in my Administration to call the leadership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to request that they completely allow food, fuel, water, and medicine to reach the Yemeni people who desperately need it," Trump said in his statement. "This must be done for humanitarian reasons immediately."

Trump's announcement came just hours after he proclaimed Jerusalem the capital of Israel, a controversial foreign policy move that enraged other nations in the Middle East, including the leaders of Saudi Arabia. 

Yemen's civil war is being fought between the government and Houthi rebels, a group of Shiite Muslims from northwest Yemen. They have been fighting the government of Yemen, with various power changes, for nearly a decade. But in 2015, when the Houthi rebels began winning battles for territory and pushing southward, Saudi Arabia — a predominantly Sunni Muslim nation — entered the civil war as part of a coalition of other nations to restore power to Yemeni government. 

Since then, the war has been high on civilian casualties. In October, the United Nations Secretary General blacklisted Saudi Arabia for "the killing and maiming of children with 683 child casualties." They claimed the Saudi government was responsible for at least 38 attacks on schools and hospitals in 2016. Saudi Arabia said the report was made with "inaccurate and misleading information" and Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to the United Nationals blamed civilian deaths on the Houthi rebels.

Stateside, Trump's statement was widely cheered. Republican Senator Todd Young called it "very encouraging" in a statement and said, "we hope he continues to pressure the Saudis to fully end the humanitarian blockade of Yemen." Humanitarian policy lead at Oxfam America, Scott Paul, told The New York Times it was "long overdue but hugely important." 

Now, Yemen will wait and hope that Saudi Arabia heeds the president's call and begins to allow food, water, fuel and medicine back into the country.

Cover photo: Shutterstock / Oleg Znamenskiy

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