Saudi Arabia to ease Yemen port blockade amid international outcry
Posted November 14, 2017 7:05 a.m. EST
(CNN) — Saudi Arabia is set to ease its blockade on Yemen's ports to allow humanitarian shipments to enter the war-torn country.
The Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen's Iranian-backed rebels closed the ports last week after a missile launched from Yemen was intercepted over the skies of the Saudi capital.
The closures prompted an international outcry, with the United Nations describing the move last week as a "problem of colossal dimensions."
Saudi Arabia's permanent representative to the UN announced in a statement Monday that it would allow all government-controlled ports and airports to reopen within 24 hours.
"We would like to confirm that steps are being taken by the [Saudi-led] Coalition in full consultation and agreement with the Government of Yemen, to start the process of reopening airports and seaports in Yemen to allow for the safe transfer of humanitarian actors and humanitarian and commercial shipments," the Saudi statement said.
Yemen is largely split between rebel Houthi control and an internationally-recognized government that is backed by the Saudis.
"Between 80 and 90 percent of food imports are coming in through these ports, prior to the crisis. And if these channels, these lifelines, are not kept open, it is catastrophic for people who are already in what we have already labeled the world's worst humanitarian crisis at the moment," Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said last week.
The blockade cut off UN-supervised relief supplies, which caused severe shortages of food and medicine. A recent cholera epidemic has been blamed on such shortages.
In response to the blockade, Yemen's Supreme Political Council in Houthi-held Sana'a threatened to turn all airports, ports, border crossings and "areas of any importance" to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- which is part of the Saudi coalition -- into a "direct target."
Parts of Yemen have been on the brink of famine during the civil war, which has raged now for more than two years. More than half of the country's medical facilities have closed, cutting much of the population off from essential healthcare.
The World Health Organization reported that more than 8,600 people have died and 49,963 people have been injured between the war's start in March 2015 and mid-September of this year.