Saudi Arabia has warned the UN and international aid agencies to withdraw all staff from northern Yemen amid ongoing attacks against the cities and towns in the area.
The short note recently sent by the Saudi Embassy in London said the warning was intended to “protect the international organizations and their employees” from the Saudi airstrikes.
Saudi Arabia has come under international criticism over the civilian death toll of its air campaign, along with a naval blockade that has limited food and other aid deliveries to parts of Yemen held by the Houthis.
Abdallah al-Mouallimi, the Saudi ambassador to the UN, told Reuters that Riyadh issued the warning because it was “just concerned for the safety of the UN staff and their humanitarian agencies.”
“We want them to go away from areas that are obvious targets,” he said.
Responding the letter, UN official Stephen O’Brien rejected the request and said the humanitarian community would continue to deliver “life-saving assistance as per internationally recognized principles.”
The senior UN aid official further reminded Saudi Arabia of its obligations under international humanitarian laws to allow humanitarian access in Yemen. Saudi officials, however, insist the warning is legal.
Saudi Arabia began a military intervention against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in March last year. According to the UN, more than 6,100 people have been killed in the war in Yemen, at least half civilians.