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Civilians Face Worsening Catastrophe as US-Backed Saudi Coalition Expands Offensive in Yemen

Offensives may 'inflict yet more violence on civilians caught between the warring parties and expose them to armed reprisals'

A child in Sanaa, Yemen.  (Photo:  Julien Harneis/flickr/cc)

As Yemenis suffer "appalling damage" from ongoing conflict, one humanitarian medical organization says that those states supporting the coalition-led offenses may be contributing to civilian deaths.

The World Health Organization said Tuesday that nearly 4,000 people had died in the conflict since it broke out mid-March, nearly 1,900 of whom were civilians.

Reuters summarizes the situation:

The Houthis, backed by army units loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, have been waging a four-month-old war against a Saudi-led Arab coalition that has been seeking to restore to power exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the

fighters backed by Saudi Arabia have seized the offensive in Yemen’s war, taking control of a major city and pressing to expand ground operations against rebel forces.

The shift in momentum after the Saudi-led coalition failed to make headway appears to be due to the arrival since mid-July of hundreds of Yemeni fighters who had been secretly trained in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi-led military coalition, as Common Dreams reported this week, "includes the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, and Sudan. While the United States and United Kingdom both say they are not formally part of the coalition, they are both providing direct assistance—including logistics and intelligence—as well as serving as major weapons suppliers for the campaign."

The reported shift comes the same week as Human Rights Watch said the military coalition committed what "appears to be a war crime" in bombing residential housing, which killed at least 65 civilians.

The ongoing fighting has pushed many Yemenis into crisis—if they weren't there already.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien said Tuesday that "the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen continues to deteriorate rapidly" and that "the impact of this conflict on civilians is indeed catastrophic."

"Since March," he continued, "the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in Yemen has increased by 33 per cent from an already staggering 16 million people to more than 21 million in July. The number of those facing food insecurity has increased from 10.6 to 13 million, an increase of 21 per cent."

"This conflict has brought appalling damage on an already suffering people," he said.

Aid organization Oxfam has been highlighting the devastation Yemenis face, warning that the coalition-imposed blockade has causes hunger to skyrocket.

Philippe Clerc, Oxfam Country Director in Yemen, said: "Since the start of the conflict every day that goes by without a ceasefire and full resumption of imports sees nearly 25,000 additional people going hungry in Yemen.  As the warring parties continue to ignore calls for a ceasefire, the average family in Yemen is left wondering when their next meal will be—if they survive the bombs, they’re now running out of food."

Like Clerc, Dr Mégo Terzian, President of Médecins Sans Frontières France, criticized the UN Security Council resolution passed in April for failing to bring an end to the conflict, writing in Liberation this week that the resolution gave the coalition "a blank check to bomb all infrastructure such as roads, airports, ports and petrol stations that could afford a military advantage to the rebels and impose restrictions on air and maritime trade which have rapidly resulted in isolating the entire country from the outside world."

Terzian also warned that the coalition's continued strikes likely mean more civilian deaths, which may be seen as acceptable "collateral damage" to those, like the U.S., who support the coalition:

[W]e fear that the coalition-led offensives seeking to regain territory from the Houthis will, in the short-term, inflict yet more violence on civilians caught between the warring parties and expose them to armed reprisals. Furthermore, we also fear that those countries who support the coalition in its quest “to liberate” Yemen – whatever the cost – will view such violence as acceptable collateral damage. A collateral damage that may be of little concern to governments – as we have come to understand in recent months during our attempts to rally diplomats in Paris, Geneva and Washington on the need to put pressure on the warring parties to spare civilian lives.

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