Yemen crisis : First aid flights arrive since blockade
- The first aid flights since the Saudi-led coalition imposed a blockade on rebel-held areas three weeks ago have landed in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa.
- They include a UN flight carrying 1.9m doses of vaccines, Meritxell Relano, Unicef representative in Yemen tweeted.
- Three more aircraft carrying UN aid workers and International Red Cross staff have also arrived.
Yemen, one of the Arab world’s poorest countries, has been devastated by a war between forces loyal to the internationally-recognised government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and those allied to the Houthi rebel movement.
More than 8,600 people have been killed and 49,000 injured since March 2015, many of them in air strikes by a Saudi-led multinational coalition that backs the president.
How did the war start?
- The conflict has its roots in the failure of a political transition supposed to bring stability to Yemen following an uprising that forced its longtime authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to hand over power to Mr Hadi, his deputy, in 2011.
- Mr Hadi struggled to deal with a variety of problems, including attacks by al-Qaeda, a separatist movement in the south, the continuing loyalty of many military officers to Mr Saleh, as well as corruption, unemployment and food insecurity.
- The Houthi movement, which champions Yemen’s Zaidi Shia Muslim minority and fought a series of rebellions against Mr Saleh during the previous decade, took advantage of the new president’s weakness by taking control of their northern heartland of Saada province and neighbouring areas.
- In January 2015, the Houthis reinforced their takeover of Sanaa, surrounding the presidential palace and other key points and effectively placing Mr Hadi and his cabinet ministers under house arrest.
- The president escaped to the southern port city of Aden the following month.
Why should this matter for the rest of the world?
- Western intelligence agencies consider AQAP the most dangerous branch of al-Qaeda because of its technical expertise and global reach, and the emergence of IS affiliates in Yemen is a serious concern.
- The conflict between the Houthis and the government is also seen as part of a regional power struggle between Shia-ruled Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia.
- Gulf Arab states have accused Iran of backing the Houthis financially and militarily, though Iran has denied this, and they are themselves backers of President Hadi.
- Yemen is strategically important because it sits on the Bab al-Mandab strait, a narrow waterway linking the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden, through which much of the world’s oil shipments pass.
Who is fighting whom?
On one side is the Huthi armed group, often referred to as the “Popular Committees”, which is supported by certain army units and armed groups loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh
On the other side is the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and supported by President Hadi, which has carried out air strikes and ground operations in Yemen. Members of the coalition include the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan and Sudan. The USA and UK have been providing key intelligence and logistical support to the coalition.