UN food agency says aid looted in Yemen's Houthi-held area

CAIRO (AP) — The U.N. food agency said Tuesday that one of its warehouses in the Houthi-controlled part of Yemen had been looted.

The World Food Program statement described the culprits simply as “militias” and said 127.5 tons (over 115,000 kilograms) of aid were stolen in the northern province of Hajja.

A senior aid worker, however, said Houthi militiamen were behind the looting. The worker spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal.

Millions of Yemenis live just a step away from famine and rely on food aid.

The WFP began a partial suspension of food aid to areas of Yemen controlled by the Houthi rebels last June, amid accusations they were diverting aid from the war-torn country’s hungriest people. The Houthis denied the accusation. Aid deliveries resumed in August.

Across Yemen, factions and militias on all sides of the conflic t have blocked food aid from going to groups suspected of disloyalty, diverted it to front-line combat units or sold it for profit on the black market, The Associated Press reported in December 2018. The WFP confirmed the report.

The WFP provides food assistance to 12 million people every month. The agency spoke out repeatedly last year about aid diversion at the hands of Houthis and accused them of impeding its operations.

The Iran-backed Houthi rebels have been at war with Yemen's internationally recognized government since 2014, when the Houthis took control of the capital, Sanaa. That move prompted a coalition of Gulf Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to begin a military campaign the following year in support of the internationally recognized government.

A drastic escalation in fighting between the Saudi-led military coalition and Houthi rebels in Yemen has killed and wounded hundreds of people over the past week, officials and tribal leaders said Monday.