UN: Yemen conflict escalates as country speeds toward famine

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FILE - In this Nov. 23, 2019 file photo, a malnourished newborn baby lies in an incubator at the Al-Sabeen Hospital in Sanaa, Yemen. After a visit to Yemen the World Food Program's executive director, David Beasley, warned that his underfunded organization may be forced seek hundreds of millions of dollars in private donations in a desperate bid to stave off widespread famine in the coming months. Beasley told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday, March 10, 2021, that conditions in war-wrecked Yemen are hell. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File)

CAMEROON – The United Nations warned Tuesday that an offensive by Houthi rebels in Yemen has escalated the nearly six-year conflict in the Arab world’s poorest nation as it “speeds towards a massive famine.”

U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths and U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock painted a grim picture of the political, economic and humanitarian crisis in Yemen, which is exacerbated by a government blockade of fuel ships entering the country’s main port of Hodeida controlled by the Houthis.

The intensified fighting has come amid an international and regional diplomatic push to end the conflict which began with the 2014 takeover of the capital Sanaa by the Iranian-backed Houthis. A Saudi-led coalition supported by the U.S. and allied with the government has been fighting the rebels since March 2015.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s envoy to Yemen, Tim Lenderking, last week urged the Houthis to agree to a cease-fire proposal.

Griffiths told the U.N. Security Council the Houthis’ weeks-long offensive on the oil-rich central province of Marib, the government’s last stronghold in Yemen’s northern half, has put an estimated one million already displaced civilians at risk. Fighting forces on both sides have suffered “heavy losses,” he said.

Missile and drone strikes from Houthi-controlled areas into Saudi Arabia targeting civilian and commercial infrastructure “have also increased significantly in recent weeks,” Griffiths said. And retaliatory airstrikes on Sanaa city are “endangering civilians there as well.”

Griffiths said other fronts have also opened, with government forces earlier this month launching an offensive against rebel positions in western Hajjah province, and fighting in the government-held southern province of Taiz.

The result has been “a dramatic deterioration” in the conflict, he said.