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16 million risk starvation in Yemen, says UN as Saudi war rages

MORE than 16 million people in Yemen will go hungry this year, a United Nations agency warned today ahead of a conference to drum up humanitarian aid.

The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that the risk of a major famine in the country – subjected to brutal bombardment and blockade by Saudi Arabia since 2015 – “has never been more acute.”

Though the new US government of President Joe Biden has blocked arms sales to the Saudis for use in the war – which has killed an estimated 130,000 people and given rise to what the UN deems the world’s worst humanitarian disaster – the Gulf kingdom has shown no sign of backing down in its bid to crush the Shi’ite Houthi movement, which took control of Yemen in 2014, overthrowing Saudi ally Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Riyadh said on Saturday that it had intercepted a Houthi missile over its territory and shot down three bomb-laden drones in a southern province.

A major new Houthi offensive in the province of Marib has prompted an escalated Saudi bombing campaign in response, killing hundreds of people.

The OCHA said that the fighting there had displaced more than 8,000 people and 380,000 more may have to flee if fighting reaches the provincial capital, many of them already refugees from other theatres of the war.

A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, Colonel Turki al-Maliki, said that the Houthis were targeting civilians “in a systemic and deliberate way.”

Yet Saudi Arabia has faced international condemnation for causing heavy civilian casualties by its own bombing of Yemen over successive years, including the targeting of residential areas and hospitals.

An August 9 2018 attack on a school bus that killed 40 children and 11 adults sparked worldwide uproar, and the subsequent revelation that the bomb used had been supplied by the United States swung US public opinion against the war, leading Mr Biden to pledge an end to support for Saudi Arabia.

But despite publishing a report by US intelligence agencies on Friday that concluded Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had personally approved the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Washington will not be taking any action against him, while its ban on arms sales has not been emulated by Britain, which continues to sell weaponry to Riyadh.

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