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Saudi-led coalition denies Yemen ‘blockade’

DUBAI (AFP) – 

The Saudi-led coalition denied on Tuesday it had imposed a “blockade” on Yemen, saying instead that it was controlling access to the country to prevent pro-Iran rebels from obtaining arms.

“No, there is no blockade,” coalition spokesman Major General Ahmed Assiri told AFP.

“There is control based on international law… Control is different from blockade, which means that nobody can enter or leave” the country, he said.

Assiri also spoke of “restriction” and “controlled freedom of movement”.

“If a boat leaves from Djibouti, before reaching Hodeida (port in western Yemen), our forces board the vessel to ensure the cargo is legal and complies with Resolution 2216,” adopted by the UN Security Council in April 2015 and prohibiting the delivery of arms to the rebels in Yemen, he said.

The coalition, which began its bombing campaign against rebels in Yemen in March 2015 in support of the internationally recognised government, accuses Iran of arming the Huthi insurgents and their allies.

The United States has made similar accusations, but Tehran denies the charges.

Saying that Yemen has been under blockade since March 2015 “gives the wrong impression”, Assiri said.

Ships carrying food and medical aid as well as people and goods have reached “all ports, including those controlled by the Huthis” such as Hodeida, he said.

But he acknowledged that only “aircraft from humanitarian organisations and the United Nations” can land or take off from rebel-controlled capital Sanaa.

“They are the only aircraft that do not undergo inspection,” he said.

Asked why commercial aircraft from national carrier Yemenia can no longer operate in Sanaa, stranding thousands of civilians, Assiri said this was to ensure passenger safety and that the airline was not used by the rebels to transfer arms.

He said that planes can use the airport in second city Aden which pro-government forces recaptured with the help of the coalition in July 2015.

If the road between Sanaa and Aden is too risky for civilian use, “it’s because of the Huthis”, he said.

“We are not angels,” he said. “But this is an exceptional period that requires exceptional measures.”

“We understand the difficulties facing the population in Yemen, but the situation has changed” because of the war.

On humanitarian aid, Assiri said the “problem is not that it is not coming to Yemen, but who controls it” once it enters.

He accused the rebels of blocking aid outside the government-held city of Taez, which the insurgents have besieged for months, or at Hodeida.

They “sell it for prices three to 10 times higher, or use it to feed their troops or pressure tribes that do not work with them”, he charged.

Nearly 6,900 people have been killed in the Yemen conflict, more than half of them civilians, an additional three million have been displaced and millions more need food aid.

© 2016 AFP