Yemeni Protesters March on Key Port to Demand Humanitarian Zone


A group of Yemeni protesters set out from rebel-held capital Sanaa Wednesday on a 225-kilometer (140-mile) march to call for unrestricted aid deliveries to the war-torn country. 

The "protest for bread" marchers will head for the Red Sea port city of Hodeida -- also controlled by Iran-backed Huthi insurgents -- which is the main entry point for aid deliveries to rebel-held areas.

A Saudi-led coalition battling the rebels launched an offensive early this year to re-seize control of Yemen's entire Red Sea coast, including Hodeida. 

Around thirty protesters are marching to demand that the port be declared a humanitarian zone.

"We are organizing this march so as not to be deprived of our means of survival, and to prevent the capture of Hodeida port" by pro-government forces, protester Mahioub Hussam told AFP.

The war between Yemen's government and Iran-backed Huthi rebels escalated in March 2015 when the Saudi-led coalition intervened in support of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

The United Nations says that more than 7,700 people have since been killed.

The country now faces severe food shortages and the United Nations has warned of impending famine.

"This march is not political but humanitarian," said Ezzedine Essoufi, head of the organizing committee.

Dozens of people gathered outside the United Nations headquarters in Sanaa to see the protesters off on a march expected to take five to six days. 

Organizers hung banners demanding quicker aid deliveries and the reopening of Sanaa airport, which the coalition shut down in August when it resumed air strikes following the collapse of peace talks.

The protesters also demanded an international inquiry on war crimes.

The Huthis, who hail from Yemen's Shiite-linked Zaidi minority in northern Yemen, have controlled large parts of the country since they seized Sanaa in 2014.

The coalition accuses the rebels and their allies, forces loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, of using the port to bring arms into the country.

The U.N. urged warring parties in early April to "ensure the continued functioning" of Hodeida port as it is the country's main point of entry for humanitarian aid.