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starving yemeni baby

A Yemeni child suffering from malnutrition lies in a bed at al-Sabeen maternity hospital in the capital Sanaa on September 25, 2022. (Photo: Mohammed Huwais/AFP via Getty Images)

Peace Groups Push US to Use 'All Points of Leverage' to End Saudi Blockade of Yemen

"The Biden administration must take urgent action to compel Saudi Arabia to completely lift this blockade as a humanitarian act, for the sake of millions of Yemenis in desperate need."

Jessica Corbett

The Biden administration is facing pressure from advocacy groups to end Saudi Arabia's blockade of Yemen, especially with the weekend expiration of a six-month cease-fire in the war-torn country.

"Saudi Arabia's tactic of collective punishment has created untold suffering for tens of millions of people and contributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths."

"Whether or not warring parties can reach a new agreement to extend the truce, the U.S. has a moral and political obligation to use any and all points of leverage with Saudi Arabia to end their collective punishment of Yemenis via the blockade, especially as we still maintain the backbone of their offensive military capabilities, which may be reactivated in the coming weeks," said Demand Progress policy adviser Cavan Kharrazian.

"The continued subservience to Saudi Arabia's disastrous foreign policy and complicity in blatant human rights abuses against the Yemeni people is a dark stain on the U.S.'s reputation and credibility," Kharrazian added. "We are going on eight years of fueling this war and humanitarian disaster. Enough is enough."

Demand Progress Educational Fund is among over a dozen groups that endorsed a letter 40 House Democrats sent last week urging U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to "maintain pressure on the Saudi-led coalition to eliminate unnecessary restrictions on commercial trade, travel, or other actions that harm the prospects for humanitarian relief and peace in Yemen."

"Numerous Members of Congress, including members of both parties, have called on the administration to publicly pressure Saudi Arabia to lift the blockade in Yemen and decouple it from broader political negotiations, citing humanitarian concerns and the need to de-escalate the conflict," notes the letter—led by Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.). "Given the outsized human impact of this conflict, it is vital that this position remain a priority for the administration."

The letter also highlights that according to United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg, "under the first 4.5 months of the truce, the Saudi-led coalition allowed in nearly one million metric tons of fuel and has permitted the use of Sanaa International Airport for commercial flights for the first time since 2016."

"However, these early steps to mitigate the worst excesses of the Saudi-led coalition's blockade remain woefully inadequate in the face of the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and are in danger of being reversed if the truce is not extended and expanded," the lawmakers warned.

The U.N.'s deadline for extending the truce—which began in April—was Sunday, and negotiators failed to strike a deal, despite Grundberg's push for a six-month extension.

"I am grateful for the constructive engagement at the leadership level from both sides over the past weeks," Grundberg said Sunday. "And I appreciate the position of the government of Yemen on engaging positively with my proposal. I will continue to work with both sides to try and find solutions."

Al Jazeera reports that Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak, the foreign minister for Yemen's internationally recognized government, blamed the Houthis for the failure to reach a deal, telling the satellite channel Al-Hadath that "the government made many concessions to extend the truce."

According to Al Jazeera, "There was no immediate comment from the Houthis, but on Saturday they said that discussions around the truce had reached a 'dead end,' and that they were continuing to advocate for a full opening of the Sanaa airport and lifting of the blockade on the key port city of Hodeida."

Urging all parties involved "to fulfill their obligation to the Yemeni people to pursue every avenue for peace," Grundberg stressed that "ultimately, Yemenis need an end to the conflict through an inclusive political process and a negotiated settlement."

The failed negotiations sparked global alarm—including from Ferran Puig, Oxfam's country director in Yemen, who said that "the end of the truce is terrible news for the people of Yemen. Millions will now be at risk if airstrikes, ground shelling, and missile attacks resume."

"The past six months have brought hope to millions of Yemenis who have seen a 60% decrease in casualties, a significant reduction in violence, more fuel imports, and much easier access to essential services and aid. In addition, fewer people have been forced from their homes," he noted.

"Resumed fighting would further exacerbate the crisis and undermine the efforts towards the lasting peace Yemenis desperately need," Puig warned. "We urge all parties to the conflict to listen to the demands of their people, who dream for a better tomorrow where they are able to rebuild their lives and future."

"The Biden administration must take urgent action to compel Saudi Arabia to completely lift this blockade as a humanitarian act."

While U.S. President Joe Biden pledged shortly after taking office last year to end the United States' support for the Saudi-led coalition's "offensive operations" in Yemen, his administration has come under fire for continuing to allow warplane maintenance and arms sales.

Despite his campaign promise to treat the kingdom as a "pariah," Biden greeted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with a fist bump in Jeddah this summer.

"Conventional wisdom in many powerful circles here in Washington—emanating from Saudi-funded think tanks and from an administration that fist-bumps the Saudi dictator—attempts to cast the blame for this war on the Yemeni-run, de facto government in Sanaa, instead of the Saudi-led coalition that has brutally bombed and blockaded its neighbor for over seven years. This position, however, is increasingly indefensible," said Erik Sperling, executive director of Just Foreign Policy, another group backing the letter to Blinken.

"This important letter shows that members of Congress are rightly standing firm against the use of collective punishment of tens of millions of Yemenis as a bargaining chip in negotiations," Sperling said.

Hassan El-Tayyab, legislative director for Middle East policy at Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), noted that "Saudi Arabia's tactic of collective punishment has created untold suffering for tens of millions of people and contributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths."

"The Biden administration must take urgent action to compel Saudi Arabia to completely lift this blockade as a humanitarian act," he said, "for the sake of millions of Yemenis in desperate need."

That demand was echoed by Dr. Aisha Jumaan, president of the Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation, who asserted that the blockade "is the main contributor to the spread of starvation and diseases and is considered a war crime. The Yemeni people should not be held hostage to peace negotiations or the truce. The blockade should be lifted unconditionally."

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