May urges Saudi Arabia to avert Yemen catastrophe

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SHAFAQNA – British Prime Minister Theresa May has implored Saudi leaders to ease a blockade on war-torn Yemen to “avert a humanitarian catastrophe”, her office said on Thursday, echoing urgent appeals from the United Nations.

May met both Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman late on Wednesday on the second leg of her Middle East tour, with the worsening crisis in Yemen topping her agenda.

“The prime minister made clear that the flow of commercial supplies on which the country (Yemen) depends must be resumed if we are to avert a humanitarian catastrophe,” May’s office said.

“They agreed that steps needed to be taken as a matter of urgency to address this.”

Saudi Arabia is Britain’s largest trading partner in the Middle East, and London has signed off on more than £3.3 billion ($4.4 billion/3.7 billion euros) worth of arms sales to Riyadh since March 2015.

The war has since killed around 8,600 people, while a further 2,000 have died of cholera.

The United Nations on Monday urged the Saudi-led coalition to do “much more” to ease the blockade impeding shipments of aid and fully reopen the key Red Sea port of Hodeida.

UN officials say Yemen could face the world’s largest famine in decades unless the crippling blockade is lifted.

“The strong message I will be giving to Saudi Arabia… is that we want to see Hodeida port opened for humanitarian and commercial access,” May told the BBC before arriving in Riyadh.

May arrived in Riyadh after a surprise visit to Baghdad where she met her Iraqi counterpart Haider al-Abadi and hailed recent military gains against the ISIS group.

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