UN food chief says full food aid could be restored in Yemen

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. food agency has reached an "agreement in principle" to restore full food aid to rebel-controlled parts of war-torn Yemen after suspending the aid last month, the agency's director said Thursday.

World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley told the Security Council he got word of the as-yet-unsigned agreement even as he spoke to the group at a previous meeting. He didn't detail provisions of the potential pact, and a U.N. spokesman gave no further details when asked at a media briefing shortly afterward.

"A lot of progress has been made," Beasley told the council. "... But we've got to find a final solution. I believe we'll get there."

If the agreement is inked, the WFP is ready to get food back to Yemen's capital, Sanaa, "within days" of the signing, Beasley said.

The partial suspension of aid to Sanaa began late last month amid accusations the rebels were diverting the food from the hungriest people in the Arab world's poorest country, which has been pushed to the brink of starvation.

The suspension affects 850,000 people in Sanaa, where the WFP says the bulk of the looting takes place. The rebels, known as Houthis, denied the accusation. They have controlled the capital since 2014.

"Not a day has gone by where I have not thought of the impact that suspending food assistance may have," Beasley said, apologizing to people in Sanaa and throughout Yemen for their ordeal.

The Houthis responded to the suspension responded by accusing the WFP of sending spoiled food.

The agency said some of the food held for long in areas controlled by the rebels had indeed gone bad.

Despite the suspension, Beasley told the council that WFP has in the last month increased the overall number of Yemenis it has helped, from 10.6 million to 11.3 million.

Other aid efforts also face roadblocks in Yemen, according to the U.N. Its humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, pointed Thursday to recent problems ranging from Houthis holding back trucks of humanitarian cargo to government requirements the that he said complicate humanitarian agency workers' travel.

"Access challenges are pervasive," but the world's largest aid operation continues, he said.

The conflict in Yemen began with the Houthis' 2014 takeover of Sanaa; the Iranian-backed Shiite rebels toppled the government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. A Saudi-led coalition allied with Hadi's internationally recognized government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.

The war has killed thousands of people and has created what the U.N. calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Millions have fled their homes, and the U.N. has said 80 percent of Yemen's population — more than 24 million people — need aid, including 10 million who rely on food aid.

Saudi-led airstrikes have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties and killed thousands of Yemeni civilians.

The Houthis, meanwhile, have used drones and missiles to attack Saudi Arabia and have targeted vessels in the Red Sea.

In recent days, the warring sides met on a U.N. vessel to discuss redeployment of forces from the flashpoint port city of Hodeida, the main entry point for humanitarian aid to Yemen.

Under a December cease-fire agreement, both sides were to withdraw their forces from Hodeida. The withdrawals are considered an important first step toward ending the civil war.

But a lack of trust between the sides has hampered agreement on details. Each side has accused the other of violating the cease-fire, and the government rejected as a "farce" the Houthis' claims to have redeployed their forces in May from Hodeida's ports.

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The AP's Pulitzer Prize-winning work on torture, corruption and other abuse in Yemen can be found here: https://apnews.com/YemenDirtyWar

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