The streets of Sana’a have retained much of their character throughout the past six years of war. This, despite the ever-present threat of Saudi bombardment and the myriad viruses methodically working their way through the population, most recently COVID-19. The afternoon rush hour still brings out the buses, taxis and private vehicles that choke Haddah Street in northern Sana’a. Horns blare at junctions as drivers switch lanes, looking for any advantage they can find in a ritual that, until recently, brought a sense of welcome normalcy to a country faced with constant uncertainty. But six years of war have finally caught up with one of the last semblances of routine in Yemen.
In move undertaken by Saudi Arabia that is sure to exacerbate the country’s already-dire situation, the oil-rich U.S. ally is preventing oil tankers from delivering much-needed fuel to Yemen’s hospitals, water pumps, bakeries, cleaning trucks, and gas stations, plunging it, particularly its northern districts, into an acute fuel crisis.
According to a statement released by the Yemen Oil Company, at least 15 tankers carrying over 419,789 tons of fuel have been trapped at sea for over a month despite being checked and issued permits by both the Saudi-led Coalition and the United Nations. Now, the situation in the war-torn country is no longer tolerable.
The CEO of Yemen Oil said in a press conference held in the front of the United Nation office in Sana’a on Wednesday that the company’s remaining reserves won’t last for more than a few days. A statement issued by the company’s branch in Hodeida confirmed that its reserve stock had reached a critical stage and is no longer sufficient to supply the most important sectors in the country.
"One of the biggest threats in the past 100 years"
This is not the first time that Saudi Arabia has triggered a fuel crisis in Yemen, however, this blockade is significantly larger than previous ones and comes at a time when Yemen is battling COVID-19, which is spreading rapidly across the country. “It is the worse than what we expected to happen,” taxi driver Mohammed Abdullah Masoud said from beneath his mask, bags under his tired eyes. He had been waiting in line for two days for petrol. His older brother died last week from COVID-19 and he is now responsible for providing his brother’s wife and children with food and medicine as they stay quarantined at home. “My brother’s family needs bread and some vegetables. Nobody except me can provide them with essential necessities to stay alive. If I don’t have the fuel by the end of the day, something bad could happen to them.” he told MintPress.
The Saudi fuel blockade has not only forced thousands of Yemenis already struggling against an unprecedented explosion of famine, disease, and epidemics to wait for days in lines as far as the eye can see, it has also left water pumps, hospital generators, and transport vehicles without fuel and that lack of fuel has accelerated the spread of the COVID-19 as lack of as empty generators shut down facilities including an oxygen factory, hospital, nurseries, and a kidney failure center, all which need uninterrupted and stable electricity 24 hours a day.
A Yemeni man pushes his truck into a petrol station amid fuel shortages in Sanaa, June 15, 2020. Hani Mohammed | AP
Cholera, dengue fever, and malaria rates have also spiked, particularly in Hodeida, Sadaa, and Hajjah where summer temperatures can reach 129 degrees and the lack of fuel has left residents unable to escape the heat as the generators used to power air conditioners sit idle.
The price of food and medicine is also skyrocketing and the already negligible crops in Yemen are at risk of dehydration as farmers are unable to power the wells and pumps needed o to irrigate their fields. At least 80 percent of Yemen’s 28 million-strong population is reliant on food aid to survive in what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and the decimation of the remaining agricultural sector is likely to increase that figure.
On Wednesday, Mark Lowcock, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told a closed UN Security Council meeting that many more people are likely to starve to death, succumb to COVID-19 and die of cholera, adding that the coronavirus was spreading rapidly across Yemen and about 25 percent of the country’s confirmed cases have died – “five times the global average".
He added, “We have never before seen in Yemen a situation where such a severe acute domestic economic crisis overlaps with a sharp drop in remittances and major cuts to donor support for humanitarian aid – and this of course is all happening in the middle of a devastating pandemic.” For her part, UN Humanitarian Coordinator Lise Grande described COVID-19 in Yemen as “one of the biggest threats in the past 100 years".
A medical worker attends to a COVID-19 patient in an intensive care unit at a hospital in Sana’a, June 14, 2020. Hani Mohammed | AP
The Saudi blockade comes amid sustained Saudi-coalition bombing runs. Warplanes have been hovering over Sana’a and other provinces and have targeted several areas in Bydha, al-Jawf, Marib, and Sana’a, killing and injuring dozens of people. On Thursday, at least five people were killed and dozens were injured when Saudi warplanes destroyed four cars traveling on public roads in Radman and Qaneih.
The only effective option
Despite the challenges, Yemenis have strong morale and a seemingly unbreakable will to continue to withstand the Saudi ambitions for their country. “We die silently but with glory. We will never give in to Saudi Arabia,” 37-years-old Hamid told MintPress as he stood in a fuel line at a gas station in Sana’a. It has become a weekly ritual for Hamid, who queues in line for hours to get 30 liters of fuel every seven days. Hamid and the others waiting in line were gleefully checking their social media feeds and celebrating news reports that explosions were taking place in the Saudi capital following attacks bu the Houthi-led Yemeni Army.
In retaliation for the fuel embargo and the continued airstrikes on their country, the Houthi-led Yemeni army carried out large-scale attacks on a number of strategic sites in Saudi Arabia using a barrage of ballistic and winged missiles and drones which targeted the headquarters of the Saudi Defense Ministry and the General Intelligence Agency as well as King Salman Air Base, among other military targets in the capital Riyadh and the southern regions of Najran and Jizan. For many, retaliation against the Kingdom represents the only effective option to quell the Saudi attacks and blockade on their country.
Mohammed Abdulsalam, the spokesman and chief negotiator for Ansar Allah, the political wing of the Houthis, emphasized that the operation was aimed at restoring stability to the country and securing an end to the Saudi-led blockade. He said that Yemenis have no option but to confront and resist Saudi Arabia and urged international bodies to pressure the Saudi regime into ending the offensive.
The Saudi-led coalition has acknowledged the attacks but claims that the missiles and drones were intercepted and destroyed but provided no evidence to back that claim. Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki called the strike a “deliberate and systematic operation to target civilians and civilian objects,” adding later that the coalition had “ intercepted” eight bomb-laden drones and three ballistic missiles. A high-ranking Houthi official told MintPress that the raids did indeed hit their intended targets, adding the army used a new weapon in the attack that will be soon be revealed.
The United States and other countries, including France and Britain, condemned the attack on their Saudi ally. They have thus far remained silent on the recent Saudi attacks and fuel blockade on Yemen which preceded the attacks on Saudi Arabia. Yemenis have accused Western countries of abandoning their much-touted commitment to human rights in exchange for Saudi arms deals. “We are killed by weapons belong[ing] to these countries, and get nothing from them except dirty statements that offend their [own] people,” a Yemeni tribal leader who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, told MintPress in response to the U.S. condemnation.
For their part, Ansar Allah censured statements condemning their retaliatory attacks. Abdulsalam said that “condemnations of our operations are no longer effective. They come within the framework of political courtesies and are in part funded by Saudi Arabia.” He insisted that Western countries should instead pressure the kingdom to stop the war. “The American administration practices the most heinous looting of Saudi money,” he added, “The statement of the American mission in Saudi Arabia following our operation is a kind of blackmail, nothing else".
The Yemeni attacks are the tip of the iceberg as multiple high-ranking officials in the Houthi-backed Yemeni Army revealed to MintPress that they are preparing more attacks against targets in Saudi Arabia, including on oil facilities, royal palaces, military bases, airports, Saudi oil carriers, and other “sensitive targets” that they declined to mention. The consequences for Saudi Arabia will be dire until the blockade is lifted and the offensive comes to an end, they promise. “We should not let Saudi Arabia starve us and carry on enjoying stability and wealth".
The Saud-led Coalition is heavily backed by Western countries, especially the United States, Britain, and Frace, which have used systematic economic strangulation as a weapon of war — targeting jobs, infrastructure, the agricultural sector, fuel and water pumping stations, factories, and the provision of basic services, as well as imposing a land, sea, and air embargo.
Meanwhile, as a direct result of the oil blockade, many Yemeni officials say that they are already seeking assistance from Iran, hoping that the Iranian government will come to their aid as they did in Venezuela, where six Iranian vessels carried fuel, food, and medicine to Caracas in defiance of U.S. sanctions. They asked Ansar Allah to work with Iran to circumvent the blockade and supply the vital facilities in the country with fuel. If such a move is carried out, Tehran will no doubt win the hearts and minds of Yemenis wary of any foreign intervention, all thanks to the Saudi-led coalition and the United States which in large part are carrying out the war with hopes to limit “Iranian influence” in Yemen.