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United Arab Emirates Appears Ready To Attack Yemeni Port City


We are following a very tense situation this morning in Yemen. That country has been locked in civil war for more than three years. It's really a proxy war between regional powers. Saudi Arabia and its allies are taking on rebels who are backed by Iran. Today, there are fears that the United Arab Emirates, a Saudi ally, is preparing an attack on the city of Hodeida. There are hundreds of thousands of people there. This is a port for humanitarian relief. But now, the United Nations has decided to evacuate many of their employees. Lise Grande is the U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator for Yemen. And we reached her earlier this morning in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa.

LISE GRANDE: The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is the worst crisis in the world. One of the epicenters of the crisis is Hodeida. A military assault on the port and the city could put literally hundreds of thousands of people who are already highly vulnerable, who are already in trouble, it could put them into a life-threatening situation. The forces that are aligned with the southern leadership council and with the Yemeni government, they are within striking distance of the city. And this is why we expect that there could be a military assault. We've been planning as humanitarians for an assault now for a number of weeks. We have contingency plans in place, and we're prepositioning stocks. We've also made sure that no matter what, we can continue to deliver humanitarian programs. We're not leaving Hodeida. We're there. We're going to do everything we can to help make sure that people survive.

GREENE: You say you are there, but as I understood it, the U.N. is pulling its employees out. So what - are you keeping a presence there?

GRANDE: Yes, we are. So what has happened in the last 24 hours is that we have reconfigured our presence. So several of the international staff who were doing work in Hodeida have pulled back to Sanaa. We have national teams in Hodeida who are there and who are continuing our operations. With so many lives at stake, one of the most important things we have to do is make sure that our humanitarian programs continue. And that's why the U.N. is there, and that's why the U.N. is going to stay.

GREENE: And let me just finish by asking you why now, in your mind, as you look at this war? It's been going on for a few years now. You have, you know, Saudi-backed forces and Iran-backed rebels who have been going at one another. But why does it appear that the Saudis and specifically the United Arab Emirates are ready to move in on this coastal city?

GRANDE: You know, if you allow me as a humanitarian - that's the kind of question that people who are familiar with the military situation are going to have to answer. I can tell you that from a humanitarian perspective, the cost of this war has been enormous. When you're talking about three-quarters of the population who require humanitarian assistance in order to survive, you know how high the cost is. And this is why the United Nations is calling on all the parties to the conflict stop fighting, cease hostilities, get to the peace table, start those negotiations in good faith so that we can end this once and for all. Nothing is more important than that.

GREENE: Do you have any hope of that happening anytime soon?

GRANDE: Yeah. The U.N. has been involved. We have a special envoy that's assigned to Yemen. We've been involved with all the parties to the conflict, encouraging them to take that brave - that necessary step of getting to the negotiating table so that we can stop the hostilities, people can live, and we can help Yemeni to stand back on its feet.

GREENE: That's the U.N.'s Lise Grande joining us from the Yemeni capital Sanaa. Thanks very much for your time.

GRANDE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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