Civilians bear the brunt of war in Yemen

Friday 15/05/2015
Children in the middle

BEIRUT - An overdue life-saving aid operation began in Yemen after a five-day humanitarian truce went into effect, halt­ing battles among Yemeni armed groups and bombardments by a Saudi-led coalition against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.
The truce, which comes after seven weeks of non-stop fighting and coalition air strikes, was meant to allow relief organisations to de­liver much-needed assistance — especially fuel, food and medical aid — to the war-afflicted civilian population.
The fighting wreaked havoc in the Arab world’s poorest country, killing more than 1,400 people and injuring some 5,000 others, mostly civilians, since coalition air strikes started March 27th, accord­ing to the United Nations. As many as 120,000 people have been dis­placed, demonstrating once again that civilians bear the biggest brunt of wars. “The current situation in Yemen is extremely dangerous, specifically with regards to the im­pact on basic human rights of civil­ians,” commented Belkis Wille of Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Accusations of violations of hu­man rights and rules of war, which call on belligerents to avoid target­ing civilian populations, have been alleged to have been committed by both sides of the conflict. HRW said it documented several instances in which indiscriminate shelling and bombardment, including two coalition air strikes in the Houthi heartland in north Yemen, caused civilian casualties.
Though the conduct of ground fighters was more difficult to moni­tor due to lack of access to informa­tion, HRW reported grave human rights violations against civilians. “Serious violations were perpe­trated, not only by Houthi fighters but also by the other side, includ­ing units loyal to President [Abd Rabbo Mansour] Hadi and the so-called Southern Resistance fight­ers,” Wille said.
Human Rights Watch warned the Houthis had intensified recruit­ment of children, another violation of international law.
In addition to being caught in the crossfire, civilians were the hardest hit by the coalition-imposed naval and aerial blockade, which caused critical shortages of food, water, fuel and medical supplies. In a country that imports some 90% of its food and fuel, the blockade on ports, airports and ground routes proved to be detrimental.
With electricity and water sys­tems damaged in the main cities, acute shortages in fuel and medical supplies forced several medical fa­cilities to shut down, leaving scores of injured civilians and patients without treatment.
Marie Claire Feghali, a spokes­woman for the International Com­mittee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Sana’a, said hospitals were strug­gling to deal with the large number of dead and wounded.
“In Taiz, the centre for treatment of patients with kidney diseases has stopped working, and, in Aden, hospitals are in the line of fire and ambulances are stolen or shot at,” Feghali told The Arab Weekly.
Even before the war, Yemen suf­fered from years of internal strife and political upheaval.
The latest round of violence ag­gravated the precarious situation for its population of 24 million, more than half of whom live below the poverty line.
Aid agencies were trying to take advantage of the ceasefire, which went into effect May 12th, to de­liver life-saving assistance to the hardest-hit sections of the country.
Feghali said the ICRC would con­tinue with its urgent medical re­sponse, which included delivery of fuel to hospitals and assisting those facilities with medical equipment. “Our teams have also been active in fixing damaged water pipes, main­ly in Aden, so that the water keeps on flowing as much as possible,” she added.
But the delivery of humanitarian assistance was not void of contro­versy and threats. Iran triggered Saudi and US warnings when it announced that a warship would escort a cargo ship loaded with Ira­nian aid destined for the Houthi-controlled area. Saudi Arabia said no ship would be permitted to reach Yemen unless there was prior coordination with the coalition.
Furthermore, media affiliated with both sides of the conflict ex­pressed caution and pessimism concerning the truce. The pro- Houthi Al-Thawra daily warned Yemenis about trusting foreign aid workers stating, “Beware of the traitors at home and abroad who may come under the pretext of providing aid from the Red Cross or elsewhere, as they may enter the country under the name of delega­tions to become the hands and eyes of aggression.”
The pro-government Saudi daily Al-Watan ran the headline “Cau­tious truce, while Iran trifles”, al­luding to Iranian humanitarian ship.
In the meantime, Saudi King Sal­man bin Abdulaziz Al Saud doubled the oil-rich kingdom’s aid commit­ment to Yemen to $540 million.
Sustainable aid is a main con­cern, especially considering that a solution to the complex crisis in Yemen appeared to be far away from being reached.