To compare Saudi Arabia’s blockade on al-Durayhimi to the siege of Leningrad by German and Finnish forces in 1944, one of the most notorious and brutal military sieges in history, is no exaggeration.
HODEIDA, YEMEN — At least 7,000 civilians remain trapped in Southern Hodeida’s al-Durayhimi district by Saudi-led Coalition forces, in what has become a de facto eight-month siege amid Yemen’s broader humanitarian crisis. Conditions in al-Durayhimi are dire, as civilians endure an acute shortage of food and the spread of disease and epidemics.
In June 2018 Saudi-led forces imposed a land and air blockade on the heavily populated area of al-Durayhimi, which lies about 20 km from the Red Sea port city of Hodeida. Saudi forces left no safe corridors for civilians to flee and then began an indiscriminate campaign of rocket and artillery strikes on the district.
Without humanitarian corridors, local authorities, humanitarian organizations, and ambulance crews have been left unable to evacuate the wounded. The roads leaving al-Durayhimi are rife with danger thanks to the seemingly endless barrage of coalition rocket and artillery attacks, making it difficult to smuggle food and medicine into the district.
“Thousands of civilians from children, women to the elderly have been trapped by Saudi Arabia,” Majed Shureim, a representative of the Durayhimi Directorate in the local council of Hodeida, said. “Dozens die every day because of hunger and disease. They can not flee due to the lack of secure corridors.” Furthermore, the Saudi-led Coalition has also blocked internet access across the region, making it almost impossible for residents to contact the outside world.
In August 2018, the Coalition announced a military operation to seize the city, backed by air power, rockets, artillery, and a ground offensive, as well as militia groups loyal to Yemen’s ousted former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi. Yet despite all of their resources, Saudi forces have been unable to overcome the fierce resistance shown by al-Durayhimi’s residents.
Mohammed Sulaiman al-Halisi, a high-ranking official in Hodeida province, said that civilians in al-Durayhimi have faced both an external enemy in the siege and an internal enemy in the diseases and hunger that have plagued others coastal districts, adding “whatever happens, we will not surrender to Coalition forces and we will keep our land.”
Dr. Yussif al-Hadhri, the spokesman of Yemen’s Ministry of Public Health and Population, told MintPress News that the blockade of al-Durayhimi has already sparked a humanitarian disaster:
There is already a humanitarian disaster in the city of Durayhimi. Malaria, cholera and dengue are widespread, not to mention child malnutrition, psychological diseases in children and women. We can not help these innocent civilians.”
To compare Saudi Arabia’s blockade on al-Durayhimi to the siege of Leningrad by German and Finnish forces in 1944, one of the most notorious and brutal military sieges in history, is no exaggeration. In fact, in many ways, this siege by the Saudi-led Coalition, supported by the United States, is much worse and sets a far more dangerous precedent.
Before imposing the blockade, the Coalition destroyed farms, shops, mosques and health centers, government buildings and dozens of civilian homes in and around the city. The city’s stock of food and medicine was already depleted and hundreds of the district’s residents were already sick or wounded as a result of intense shelling by Saudi forces.
The policy of imposing suffocating blockades on civilians without providing humanitarian corridors for women, children and the wounded to reach safety has been used throughout Yemen by the Coalition during its four-year war on its southern neighbor. Blockades, which restrict all movement of people and goods into and out of an area, were a common weapon of war used in medieval times to force the resistance to surrender. Now, Saudi Arabia is using the tactic to devastating effect in Yemen — taking it a step further by destroying all basic elements of human survival, including hospitals and farms.
In fact, as the UN’s World Food Programme has noted, Saudi Arabia systematically targets Yemen’s food sources and food storage facilities in its campaign against Yemen.
A desperate convoy
Yemen’s Ministry of Health has complained that the international community is ignoring the plight of civilians in al-Durayhimi, saying that dozens of appeals have been issued to international aid organizations without response. The ministry told MintPress that intervention by international aid groups is urgently needed to save the residents of Durayhimi and other coastal cities, including Hodeida.
Despite enduring the devastating Saudi war themselves, thousands of Yemeni civilians have begun to collect donations and prepare a large food convoy for delivery to al-Durayhimi’s residents. The residents hope that the food convoy will be delivered by the Red Cross or United Nations to civilians trapped in the district.
Local authorities have asked Danish General Michael Lollesgaard, the head of the United Nations mission to monitor Yemen’s truce agreement, to accompany the food convoy so as to avoid its being targeted by Saudi-led Coalition forces.
The convoy’s date of departure has not yet been announced, and Yemenis widely expect Saudi forces to prevent it from reaching the city. But that hasn’t been enough to dissuade hundreds of people from gathering canned food, used blankets, medicine and even livestock for al-al-Durayhimi’s besieged residents.
Bones poking through wrinkled skin
The blockade on Durayhimi city is an extreme example of the type of blockade endured by dozens of Yemen’s cities in the country’s western coastal and border areas, where civilian populations struggle to survive without food, running water or fuel, and stricken by disease.
During the four years of war in Yemen, the world has witnessed the blockade’s effects and newspapers across the world have published photographs of emaciated, starving children from besieged areas and thousands of men and women in their desperate state looking almost identical to one another — their breasts sunken in, their stomachs enormous and, instead of arms and legs, bones poking through their wrinkled skin.
The blockade on Yemen, supported by the United States and other Western military powers, has also become a fertile environment for infectious disease and chronic illnesses, while also depleting the country’s supply of food and life-saving medicine.
The ongoing siege comes amid a deepening humanitarian crisis that according to the UN has left an estimated 80 percent of the population — 24 million — requiring some form of humanitarian assistance, including 14.3 million who are in acute need. The number of people in acute need is a staggering 27 percent higher than it was in 2018, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The stories of genocide in WWII provide a holistic conception of the genocide waged by the Saudi-led Coalition’s military campaign in Yemen, where U.S.-backed militaries are carrying out a synchronized attack on all aspects of human life.
Top Photo | An elderly woman is treated for suspected cholera infection at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen, March 28, 2019. Hani Mohammed | AP
Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.