Saudi Arabia has barred Yemen's president, along with his sons, ministers and military officials, from returning home for months, Yemeni officials told The Associated Press. The officials said the ban was prompted by enmity between President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the United Arab Emirates, which is part of the Saudi-led coalition against Houthi rebels and has come to dominate southern Yemen, the portion of the country not under rebel control. Hadi and much of his government have been in the Saudi capital Riyadh for most of the war. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the two main pillars of the coalition, which is ostensibly defending Hadi's government and is battling the Shia rebels, known as Houthis. The coalition has waged an air campaign against the rebels since 2015, and the UAE has a strong military presence in southern Yemen - but the Houthis still control the north.
The United Nations says that if Saudi Arabia reopens the airport in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, and its Red Sea ports of Hodeida and Salef as the kingdom has indicated it would do, it will be "a very welcome and critically important development." U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York that senior U.N. humanitarian and political officials received information from their Saudi counterparts on Wednesday, indicating a willingness to open the airport and ports "over the next day." Haq said the U.N. is "monitoring these developments and we're trying to see whether that actually takes place on the ground." He also said the world body has "made clear the tremendous amount of needs on the ground." He also says: "We're ready to help if the ports are opened."
Saudi Arabia's decision to ease its blockade on Yemen does not go far enough, say aid and human rights groups pointing to the spectre of famine that looms over the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country. The kingdom has said it will ease its blockade on rebel-held parts of the country from Thursday and allow "urgent humanitarian and relief materials" to pass through the Red Sea port of Hodeidah and the capital's Sanaa international airport. Saudi Arabia, which has been conducting an air campaign in Yemen since 2015, intensified its embargo on the country on November 5, closing all of the country's land, sea and air ports after Houthi rebels fired a ballistic missile towards the capital, Riyadh. The kingdom said the blockade was a necessary precaution aimed at preventing weapons being smuggled into Yemen by its regional rival, Iran. Iran has rejected allegations of arming the Houthis, calling them "malicious, irresponsible, destructive and provocative".