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Saudi coalition to keep Yemeni port open for aid

By
Danielle Haynes
Yemenis see off a Chinese navy frigate at the western port city of Hodeidah, Yemen, on April 6, 2015. The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said it will keep the port open for humanitarian aid. File Photo by Stringer/EPA
Yemenis see off a Chinese navy frigate at the western port city of Hodeidah, Yemen, on April 6, 2015. The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said it will keep the port open for humanitarian aid. File Photo by Stringer/EPA

Dec. 20 (UPI) -- A Saudi-led coalition backing Yemeni President Abdu Rabbo Mansour Hadi said it will keep a critical port open for humanitarian aid in the wake of a failed missile attack by Houthi rebels on Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia said it intercepted an Iranian-made Burkan 2-H ballistic missile fired by rebels fighting the Hadi government on Tuesday before it could cause any damages or injuries. The last time the Houthis targeted Saudi Arabia with a missile, the coalition shut down seaports and airports in Yemen to prevent the rebels from smuggling in weapons.

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The Saudi blockade in November catapulted an already impoverished Yemen into a humanitarian crisis in which civilians could not get access to food and medicine.

Saudi Arabia reopened some ports after pleas from human rights organizations, and said Wednesday it would keep one of the most critical ports -- Hodeidah -- open for 30 days for the entry of commercial ships, including fuel and food vessels.

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"Despite continuous Iranian-Houthi provocations as witnessed on Tuesday by the international community, the coalition stays committed to assist the Yemeni people who are in dire need," a Saudi spokesperson said in a statement. "The Iranian-Houthis are putting all their effort into prolonging the conflict in Yemen and are only bringing ruin on the people of Yemen."

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Iran denies it supplied the missile to Houthi rebels and said Saudi allegations otherwise as "baseless."

Houthi rebels, who represent the country's Zaidi Shiite Muslim minority, have fought the Yemeni government periodically since 2004. The conflict exploded in 2014 and 2015, though when rebels, along with supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, entered the capital of Sanaa and forced Hadi to flee to the port city of Aden.

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A coalition of eight Arab countries -- mostly Sunni Muslims -- took up the fight to restore Hadi to power. The United States, Britain and France also support the coalition.

The alliance between the Houthis and forces loyal to Saleh broke down when the former president told his supporters to take up arms against the rebels earlier this month. The Houthis killed Saleh in an attack on his home Dec. 4.

The Hadi government controls much of eastern Yemen as well as the southern coast, including the second-largest city of Aden. Rebels control much of the northwest, including the capital and Hodeidah.

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Though Iran has denied involvement in the conflict, the U.S. military said it intercepted a shipment of weapons from Iran headed to the Houthis in April 2016. Last week, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said debris from a short-range missile fired by the Houthis were Iranian-made.

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