Yemen’s Houthi rebels have again shelled a vital grain storage facility in central Hodiedah, forcing work to temporarily close at the site and potentially jeopardising food aid to thousands of civilians.
The United Nation's World Food Programme said the mills, on the eastern edge of the strategically important port city, were hit on December 26. "The milling of WFP wheat at the Red Sea Mills near Hodeidah has been temporarily halted after they were hit by artillery fire," a WFP spokesperson told The National. They said that they do not know who was responsible for the attack, but Col Wathah Al Dubaish of the pro-government Joint Forces said it had been Houthi rebels. “The rebels targeted the silos of the facility with mortar shell fired from a Houthi post in the centre of the city, the projectile caused a partial damage in one of the silos leading to a full halt in the grinding operations in the facility,” he said, adding that the shelling was intentional.
It comes amid tensions between the WFP and the rebels over the distribution of grain. The Houthi rebels have demanded the nearly 60,000 tons of grain be distributed by their committees in Hodeidah, which has been rejected by the WFP. “The rebels deliberately pounded the facility, causing damage to some of the silos and to about 5,000 tonnes of wheat,” Col Al Dubaish said. He said the facility had been fully operational with nearly 200 staff working to process and prepare grain for distribution by the WFP.
Last summer, the Mills' grain storage was closed for several weeks as Houthi rebels fought with pro-government militias. The rebels shelled the site, causing damage, and preventing aid agencies reaching the stores to distribute aid. Tons of grain rotted during the fighting, exacerbating the already dire situation in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. “The assaults prove that the Houthi militia doesn’t care about the worsening humanitarian situation in the country and put its interests ahead of the suffering of the Yemeni people,” Col Al Dubaish said.
Furthermore, residents of the port city said that the last Houthi assault on the Red Sea Mills has caused worry about food shortages. “Nobody can feel our suffering, we mostly depend on the food aid that we receive from the relief organisations and we were waiting for the WFP to distribute the wheat stock stored in the mills facility at the beginning of the new year,” a resident of the city said on condition of anonymity. They said they believe the Houthis wanted to take the wheat and distribute it so that they can take “the lion’s share for their followers and sell a part of it on the black market".
The UN has threatened previously to suspend aid shipments after accusing militias of confiscating and selling aid. Last December, the government and rebels agreed to a ceasefire in the city and for forces to withdraw, handing control to local security. The UN would then have overseen shipments of aid through the port. However, a year after the deal was signed, it has still not been fully implemented, although there has been a reduction in fighting. THE NATIONAL