Spotlight: War of words escalates between Houthi rebels, WFP in Yemen

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by Murad Abdo

ADEN, Yemen, June 19 (Xinhua) -- A war of words has continued to escalate between the Yemeni Houthi rebels and the United Nation's World Food Program (WFP) amid disagreements over the distribution of aids to millions of hungry people in the war-ravaged Arab country.

The Houthi armed group aligned with Iran has controlled the capital Sanaa and most of Yemen's densely populated northern provinces since 2015.

On Monday, David Beasley, head of the WFP in Yemen, lashed out at the Houthi rebels in Yemen's northern provinces for misappropriating aid supplies.

The WFP's head told the United Nations Security Council, that "the humanitarian situation in Yemen is dire. And despite the immense suffering of the 20 million Yemenis who do not have enough to eat, we continue to face fierce resistance to simply just do our job to keep people alive."

"It saddens me that the WFP is being prevented from feeding the hungriest people in Yemen. Food assistance provided by the United Nations is being diverted in areas controlled by Ansar Allah (Houthis) at the expense of hungry children, women, and men," said Beasley during his speech.

He said the Houthi rebels have repeatedly refused to allow the WFP to operate independently, which is a necessary condition to ensure that aid reaches the people in real need.

Beasley warned that the WFP will have to begin a phased suspension of food assistance, most likely toward the end of the week unless it receives the necessary assurances from the Houthis.

On the other side, the Iranian-backed Houthis accused the WFP of "providing Yemenis with rotten and expired food assistance."

However, the WFP strongly denied on Wednesday the Houthi claims on rotten foods delivered in Yemen, saying that it has a strong mechanism for controlling the food quality and it would not deliver aid not meeting the highest standards of food safety.

In May, Yemen's government praised the "courage and responsibility" of the WFP, which warned at that time that aid distribution could be suspended in the Houthi-controlled areas due to lack of cooperation from the rebel group.

The government's statement delivered through the Foreign Ministry criticized the "the silence of some humanitarian organizations in Yemen about the Houthis' unjustified practices on diverting humanitarian aid, arresting and threating aid workers."

The government called upon "the international community to take resolute measures to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches all those affected without any hindrance from the Houthis."

Local humanitarian activists said that the ongoing tension between the Yemeni warring factions and the WFP may affect millions of people waiting for urgent assistance.

Yemen has been locked in a civil war since the Houthi rebels overran much of the country militarily and seized all northern provinces, including Sanaa, in 2014.

Saudi Arabia is leading an Arab military coalition that has intervened in Yemen's conflict since 2015 to support the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi after Houthi rebels forced him into exile.

The prolonged military conflict has aggravated the suffering of Yemenis and deepened the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Enditem

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