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US activists on hunger strike over support for Yemen war

Twenty-six-year-old Iman Saleh (L), on her 12th day of a hunger strike for Yemen, speaks during a press conference while joined by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) in Washington, DC on 9 April 2021 [Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Anti-war activists in the US are staging a hunger-strike in protest at American support for the Saudi-led coalition's war and blockade against Yemen, currently in its sixth year.

The hunger strike started on 29 March and has been led by Detroit-based activists. Among them is 26-year-old Yemeni American Iman Saleh, who is general coordinator of the Yemeni Liberation Movement.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post earlier this month, Saleh explained as she was entering the eleventh day of the protest that, "After days without food, I have lost much of my short-term memory. Day in and day out, I feel the physical burden of starvation that my people have endured for so long. But my pain cannot amount to that of Yemenis under siege. I am starving, but I am not being starved. I am suffering, but I can choose to end that suffering."

She was quoted yesterday by Al Jazeera as stating that the hunger strike is a "symbolic choice", as millions of Yemenis are facing the threat of widespread famine amid the ongoing conflict and land and sea blockades. "We felt that the world wasn't listening to what was happening in Yemen," she said.

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Although six activists had originally joined the hunger strike, only she and her 23-year-old sister Muna remain. They are only drinking water and water with electrolytes. "We felt that showing the world what the body goes through when it's in starvation… will not only bring attention and awareness to what's going on in Yemen, but also help people understand the circumstances that Yemenis have been dealing with for years."

Part of the movement's awareness campaign is to gather 5,000 signatures on an online petition calling for the Biden administration to end all support for the war and to pressure the Saudis into ending the blockade.

In February it was reported that at least 400,000 Yemeni children could die of starvation this year unless the international community intervenes, according to four UN agencies. Although famine has not been officially declared, the UN has described the situation in Yemen as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of US lawmakers called on the Biden administration to exert pressure on Riyadh to lift restrictions on imports to Yemen. They argued that the ongoing embargo on key ports of entry is a direct cause of the humanitarian crisis.

President Joe Biden had announced in his first foreign policy address in February that the US will end support for Saudi and UAE "offensive operations" in Yemen. However, he has insisted that he will continue to assist the Saudis in defending themselves against attacks from the Houthi-allied Yemen armed forces.

READ: US lawmakers ask Biden about plan to stop Saudi 'offensive operations' on Yemen

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