By Justin Sink and Nafeesa Syeed
President Donald Trump called on Saudi Arabia to immediately end a blockade of Yemen that is preventing people in the war-torn country from receiving essential supplies, a rare criticism of a key U.S. ally.
The blockade of Yemen’s Red Sea ports has raised the threat of widespread famine. Two out of three Yemenis struggle to get enough food to survive.
Trump said in a statement Wednesday he has asked U.S. officials “to call the leadership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to request that they completely allow food, fuel, water, and medicine to reach the Yemeni people who desperately need it.”
“This must be done for humanitarian reasons immediately,” Trump added. The president’s statement appeared to be a veiled criticism of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who has led the kingdom’s campaign in Yemen and has been publicly praised by Trump for his efforts to clamp down on terrorism and corruption.
Trump issued the statement shortly after he announced the U.S. was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a move widely opposed in the Middle East.
A Saudi-led coalition in Yemen fighting Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in a civil war has already produced what the United Nations calls the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis. The U.S. is supporting the Saudi coalition with assistance including refueling planes carrying out airstrikes and sharing intelligence. The U.S. has also carried out drone strikes against terrorist camps in the country.
“President Trump’s public call for Saudi Arabia to end the blockade is long overdue but hugely important,” Scott Paul, humanitarian policy lead at Oxfam America, said in a statement Wednesday. “We should not overlook the fact that U.S. support has helped create Yemen’s horrific crisis.”
At least 14,000 people have been killed or wounded since the Saudi-led offensive began in March 2015. Nearly 1 million people have contracted cholera, and 3 million, out of a population of 28 million, are internally displaced, according to the UN. Yemen was already the poorest country in the Middle East.