Posted on April 17, 2018 by Ashleigh Cowie

The United Nations has been forced to increase inspections of aid shipments in Yemen over concerns that military cargo is being smuggled in to the country illegally. Officials fear that not only is illegal activity supporting the war effort in the country, but it is also creating a barrier between the humanitarian aid and those who need it most. 

UN and Saudi officials are increasing security in the region after the armed Houthi movement stepped up attacks in the region. This included an attack on a Saudi oil tanker earlier this month. 

The Arab coalition said overnight that Riyadh's air defence had intercepted a missile aimed at Jazan city. 

Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of supplying missiles to the Houthis, who have taken over the Yemeni capital Sanaa and other parts of the country. Tehran and the Houthis deny the allegation.

As part of an arms embargo imposed by the UN Security Council, the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) are based in ports in Djibouti, Dubai, Jeddah and Salalah to observe screening of cargo destined for Yemen.

"We met with the UNVIM director and his team in Riyadh and we agreed on improved and enhanced capability," Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed S. al-Jabir told reporters in Geneva on Wednesday 4th April.

Plans are to increase inspectors from 4 to 10, and increase monitors from 6 to 16. Alongside this, there will be a push to improve technology to inspect ships.

The team supporting Lise Grande, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen,  have also confirmed that steps have been taken to increase the number of monitors and inspectors and the use of scanning equipment.

A major UN conference on Yemen was held at the start of April, drawing pledges of more than $2 billion toward a $3 billion UN humanitarian appeal. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have contributed $930 million.

"We are cooperating with the UNVIM and other UN organizations to facilitate and to increase the number of ships that arrive at Hodeidah port," Jabir said, referring to Yemen's main port for humanitarian and commercial goods, under Houthi control.

UNVIM only checks commercial and aid ships going to northern ports under Houthi control - Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Isa - and not to Aden, which is under government control.

Yemen, the Arabian peninsula's poorest country, currently has one of the world's worst humanitarian crisis where 22 million people need assistance.

When the Houthis fired missiles at Riyadh last November, the Western-backed coalition shut Yemen's airports and ports.

Houthi Movement

The Houthi movement currently control much of northern Yemen. For almost 3 years the US has supported Saudi Arabia in a war against the movement in Yemen. 

The Houthis are Zaydi Shiites, or Zaydiyyah. Shiite Muslims are the minority community in the Islamic world and Zaydis are a minority of Shiites, significantly different in doctrine and beliefs from the Shiites who dominate in Iran, Iraq, and elsewhere. 

1978- A Zaydi republican general named Ali Abdullah Saleh came to power. Saleh ruled Yemen for the next 33 years. He united north and south Yemen in 1990, favoured Iraq during the Kuwait war, and survived a Saudi-backed southern civil war in 1994. He had complicated relations with both Riyadh and Washington, but by the late 1990s was generally aligned with both against al-Qaida.

1990s- The Houthis emerged as a Zaydi resistance to Saleh, led by Hussein al Houthi, from whom they are named. They charged Saleh with corruption to steal the wealth of the Arab world’s poorest country for his own family. They also criticised Saudi and American backing for the dictator.

2003 - This was a turning point for the Houthi movement. The American invasion of Iraq in 2003 increased radicalisation among the group. The group officially began to call itself Ansar Allah (supporters of God). 

2003- Hezbollah (the Shiite movement in Lebanon successfully expelled the Israeli army from the country, becoming a role model and mentor for the Houthis. 

2004- The Yemeni launched attacks to suppress the Houthis. They killed Hussein al Houthi. The Houthis won against both Saleh and the Saudi army, a grave humiliation for the Saudis who have spent tens of billions of dollars on their military. 

2011- The Arab Spring came to Yemen. Saleh was replaced by a Sunni from the South (Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi). The Houthis were critical of his theories. 

2014- Houthis began colluding with Saleh against Hadi. 

2015- The rebel alliance took over the capital Sanaa.

2015- Operation Decisive Storm began- the Saudis went to war to support Hadi and prevent the Houthi-Saleh rebellion. Their other allies included the UAE and Bahrain. Oman and Pakistan refused to join the war. The US government backed the Saudi alliance. 

Today- almost 3 years later, the Saudi alliance have taken over some of the Houthi-controlled territory, but in doing so there is now a humanitarian disaster. The air and naval blockade have left Yeminis at risk of starvation and disease. Both sides are accused of war crimes. Saleh broke ties with the Houthis at the end of last year, and was killed days later. The Houthis won the battle for Sanaa but are now isolated from the rest of Yemenis and their politics. Critics view them as puppets for Iran, whereas some see them as patriots fighting the country's traditional enemies, Saudi Arabia and the US. The administration has recently called for an easing of the blockade.


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