Trump calls on Saudis to immediately end Yemen blockade

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Trump calls on Saudis to immediately end Yemen blockade

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Houthi Shiite rebels inspect the rubble of the Republican Palace that was destroyed by Saudi-led airstrikes, in Sanaa, Yemen, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed on Monday by his onetime allies, the Iran-backed Houthis. Sanaa has witnessed heavy fighting since last week between Saleh’s loyalists and Houthis forcing many Yemenis to cower indoors fearing the violent street clashes. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday called on Saudi Arabia to end its Yemen blockade immediately, citing humanitarian concerns.

"I have directed officials in my Administration to call the leadership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to request that they completely allow food, fuel, water, and medicine to reach the Yemeni people who desperately need it," Trump said in a statement.

A Saudi-led coalition has been fighting to defeat the Iran-backed Houthis — at one point allied with ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh's forces in Yemen — since March 2015. The coalition has imposed a blockade on the country, with the aim of reinstating the internationally recognized government of Saleh's successor, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Saleh was killed Monday by his former Houthi allies after moving to switch allegiances in the bloody conflict.

Violent clashes in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, in recent days have resulted in at least 125 deaths, according to aid groups. On Tuesday, the U.N. Security Council warned of "the dire and deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yemen," saying the country "stands at the brink of catastrophic famine."

Global anti-poverty organization Oxfam praised Trump's action but called on him to do more to stop the bloodshed, including pushing for a ceasefire and ending arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition.

"The past month's escalation has killed thousands and condemned thousands more to die in the near future," Scott Paul, humanitarian policy lead at Oxfam America, said in a statement. "Millions will die in a historic famine and public health crisis if President Trump's call is not heeded."

On Capitol Hill, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Prince Khalid bin Salman, met with Sen. Bob Corker in a previously scheduled meeting about Yemen. Corker, R-Tenn., the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, said he was blunt in sharing concerns with the ambassador "about what was happening on the ground in Yemen."

"They obviously care about U.S. support," Corker said. "I said, 'Look I'm just being honest with you. I've got numbers of senators coming up to me often with concerns about how Saudi is dealing with humanitarian concerns in Yemen. You all need to know that. You all are the heavy in this. Just know that it's created tremendous concern.'"

Yemen's stalemated war has killed over 10,000 civilians and displaced 3 million.

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Associated Press writer Richard Lardner contributed to this report.

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