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“Civilian Lives No Longer Matter”: Millions at Risk as Saudi-Led Coalition Attacks Yemeni Port City

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Hundreds of fighters have been killed and more than 4,000 civilians have fled their homes in the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah since the U.S.-backed coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, launched an all-out offensive last week. Coalition aircrafts bombarded Hodeidah’s main airport Monday, wounding dozens and preventing aid organizations from reaching parts of the city. As humanitarian organizations warn of a catastrophe for a quarter of a million civilians living in Hodeidah amid a conflict that has already killed 15,000 civilians, we’ll speak with Yemeni scholar Shireen Al-Adeimi, whose recent report is headlined “Attack on Yemen Port Shows U.S.-Backed Coalition Willing to Use Starvation as a Weapon.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to Yemen, where there are reports hundreds of fighters have been killed and more than 4,000 civilians have fled their homes since the U.S.-backed coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, launched an all-out offensive against the key port city of Hodeidah last week. Early this morning, coalition aircraft bombarded Hodeidah’s main airport, wounding dozens and preventing aid groups from reaching parts of the city. This is Yehia Tanani, a father who was displaced from Hodeidah.

YEHIA TANANI: [translated] There are people who are stuck and couldn’t leave. They told us that some humanitarian organizations are going to send buses, but then they said no buses could come in or out, so we started walking on foot, carrying our children, sitting once in a while for rest, while the Apaches hovered above us. We were scared, not knowing whether we’ll be shot or not.

AMY GOODMAN: Hodeidah has been under siege for six days, as Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates forces attempt to force Houthi rebels to give up control of the vital port city. The attack is expected to be the biggest battle yet in the 3-year conflict between the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels. The United Nations envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, has been in the capital Sana’a working towards negotiating the withdrawal of Houthi rebels from Hodeidah, leaving the port under the administrative control of the U.N. He’s due to report to the U.N. Security Council later today.

Meanwhile, the United Nations says nearly eight-and-a-half million Yemenis are on the verge of famine, with deaths set to rise if shipments of food and medicine through the port come to a halt. More than 70 percent of humanitarian supplies and 90 percent of commercial supplies to all of Yemen pass through this port city of Hodeidah. The International Committee of the Red Cross is calling for humanitarian assistance in the region. This is Marie-Claire Feghali with Red Cross.

MARIE-CLAIRE FEGHALI: Today we are at a point where catastrophic is becoming an understatement. … What we need to do today is to open the Sana’a airport, at least for the humanitarian reasons, for the people who need to evacuate, who are sick, who are wounded, to be able to leave. We can no longer afford to close this country so much for the Yemenis. We cannot keep the Yemenis hostage of this war.

AMY GOODMAN: The conflict in Yemen has already killed 15,000 civilians, sparked the world’s worst cholera epidemic, with more than a million Yemenis suffering from cholera, pushed the country to the brink of famine.

For more, we go back to Boston to speak with Shireen Al-Adeimi, a Yemeni student who just completed her doctoral degree at Harvard University, her recent piece for In These Times headlined “Attack on Yemen Port Shows U.S.-Backed Coalition Willing to Use Starvation as a Weapon.”

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Shireen. Talk about what’s happening right now in Hodeidah, in your country of Yemen.

SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: Well, thanks so much for having me back.

I think what’s happening in Hodeidah is a worst-case scenario being played out. Over the last three years, since this attack began on Yemen, Hodeidah was the one—you know, if there were any red lines drawn, that would have been Hodeidah, because any kind of disruption to the aid that’s coming in through the port of Hodeidah means the starvation of millions of Yemenis. Eight-point-four million, like you said, depend on—are on the verge of starvation, and another 22 million people, 80 percent of the population, are relying on humanitarian aid that is coming in through this port of Hodeidah. So while the Houthis control the city of Hodeidah, the ports and the waters have been patrolled by the Saudi-led coalition, and they’ve been controlling what comes in and out of the country through that port. And, you know, their attack on the city right now, led by the United Arab Emirates, shows that there are just no more red lines in Yemen, that civilian lives no longer matter. There’s not even a pretense of civilian lives being, you know, of importance in Yemen.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what this port city—why it is so significant? You have, for example, the Saudi ambassador to Yemen tweeting Saturday, “Today the UAE Ambassador to KSA“—that’s the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia—”and myself met with a number of Ambassadors of countries to Riyadh. We stressed that the Hodaidah port remains open and will become a vital lifeline to Yemenis rather than a source of illegal revenue and smuggled Iranian weapons to the Houthi[s].”

SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: There is absolutely no evidence to back up any of those statements. So, for the last three years we’ve been hearing that Iran is involved in Yemen, that Iran is smuggling weapons to Yemenis through the port of Hodeidah. There is absolutely—there’s zero evidence that any of this has been taking place. Keep in mind that there is a land, air and sea blockade by the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and all this coalition of countries. And somehow Iranians are supposed to have magically transported some missiles to Yemen. So there’s no evidence to what he’s saying. It’s part of the same, you know, talking points that they’re in Yemen to deter Iranian influence, again, without any evidence, without any substantial evidence to back up what they’re saying. So, that is the claim.

And to say that Houthis are preventing aid from coming in, again, it makes no sense, given that the Saudis are the ones controlling what comes in and out of the country. And back in November, when they blockaded the port of Hodeidah entirely for a couple of weeks, people starved to death. And again, that was in response to supposed Iranian missiles that were coming into Yemen, even though a U.N. report that was leaked showed that there was—you know, there was no Iranian—that the missiles that came out of Yemen to Saudi Arabia were not from Iran and had more American parts than Iranian parts. So, again, this is what we’ve been hearing for three years, but there’s not any evidence to support what they’re saying.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this month, you tweeted a list of dozens of senators who endorsed continuing U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen. You wrote, “On the 15th anniversary of the #IraqWar, these 55 senators voted to continue waging war on #Yemen They voted to continue starving millions to death They voted to continue bombing Yemenis with US bombs, dropped by Saudi-purchased US jets, refueled midair by the US Army. #SJRes54.” Can you explain the Senate resolution, what Senate Resolution 54 called for, and what you feel needs to happen right now?

SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: So, S.J. Res. was such an incredible opportunity to, once and for all, extricate the U.S. from what they’re doing in Yemen, from helping the Saudi Arabians wage this war on a country that doesn’t pose any threat to Saudi Arabia, the U.S. or any other country. It was a civil war that they got themselves involved in. And S.J. Res. 54 aimed to—you know, the senators that had introduced it—Bernie Sanders and Chris Murphy and Mike Lee—they invoked the War Powers Resolution, which meant that if they had voted in favor of this bill, the U.S. had to legally then, you know, remove themselves. We know that there is U.S. Special Forces on the ground in Saudi Arabia helping with this mission. There’s refueling. There’s sales of weapons and so on.

But it didn’t go through. You know, they ended up voting to table it. And those 55 senators voted to table the bill. They didn’t even end up voting on it. And here was this incredible opportunity to end the war, because given how involved the U.S. is in Yemen and how dependent the Saudi-led coalition is on the support of the United States, this war cannot continue being waged much longer without U.S. support. So, you know, but I don’t think—

AMY GOODMAN: So you’re saying that the U.S. is facilitating this war.

SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: Absolutely. In Yemen, this is seen as a U.S.-Saudi war on their country. This is not just the Saudis and Emiratis waging war. The Emiratis and the Saudis are relying on U.S. intelligence. You know, even right now in Hodeidah, after pleas from certain senators to—for the U.S. to not help the Saudi Arabians and the Emiratis try to seize Hodeidah, they ended up, in the end, agreeing to provide airstrike targeting. And so, you know, we’re helping them along the way. We have been refueling jets midair. We are advising their soldiers. We’re providing all sorts of assistance to the Saudi Arabian Army. And so, without the U.S., the Saudis are—you know, they don’t have—they don’t manufacture their own weapons. Without U.S. support and weaponry, they can’t continue to wage this war. So we’re very much entrenched in this war.

And I think right now what needs to happen is another push by the senators and, you know, by Congress to again invoke the War Powers Resolution to try to, once and for all, end any kind of involvement in this war, because we are, you know, entrenching ourself in more and more apparent war crimes. These are the words of Senator Chris Murphy, for example, who’s saying that there’s a U.S. imprint on all—on every war crime that takes place in Yemen. So, it’s not just the Saudis and Emiratis. It’s the U.S., as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Shireen, I wanted to end with the words of Pope Francis, who appealed for peace in Yemen as the Saudi-led coalition continues its assault on Hodeidah, speaking to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square in his weekly Sunday address.

POPE FRANCIS: [translated] I follow with concern the dramatic fate of the people of Yemen, already exhausted by years of conflict. I appeal to the international community to spare no effort to urgently bring the parties involved to the negotiating table and to avoid a worsening of the already tragic humanitarian situation.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the pope on Sunday. Your final 10-second comment, Shireen?

SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: You know, I hope that your audience listening in realizes how much we’ve been involved in this country, in this war on Yemen. It’s an unjust war. We have no business being there. And I hope that they would call their senators, write to them, urge them to—you know, to end this war on Yemen.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we have to leave it there. Shireen Al-Adeimi, Yemeni scholar, just completed her doctoral degree at Harvard University, speaking out about the role of the U.S. in the Saudi-led war on Yemen. We’ll link to your piece in In These Times.

That does it for our show. If you want to get our daily news headlines, send the word “democracynow” to 66866.

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