Yemeni police have arrested 21 suspects in the murder of a local office chief of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) in Taiz, according to the Yemeni Interior Ministry.
Moayad Hameidi was shot dead in Turbah in Taiz governorate. Turbah is a city located near the Red Sea coast.
The Interior Ministry said on Saturday that Yemeni police in Taiz made nearly two dozen arrests over a 24-hour period.
Cindy McCain, executive director of the WFP, strongly condemned Hameidi’s killing, describing him as “a dedicated humanitarian”.
Hameidi had served the WFP for 18 years in Sudan, Syria and Iraq, according to McCain.
“Those responsible must be held accountable. Aid workers should never be a target,” McCain said in a post on Twitter Friday.
WFP Representative and Country Director in Yemen, Richard Ragan, called Hameidi’s killing “a profound tragedy for our organization and the humanitarian community”.
Hameidi, who worked as head of the local WFP office in Yemen, was a Jordanian national and “worked in Turbah, in the south-west of the country. He was fired on Friday afternoon, and the identity of the assailants is not yet known,” the UN said in a statement on Friday.
Hameidi had recently arrived in Yemen “to take up a new post as head of the agency’s office in Taiz”, according to the UN.
Taiz is the country’s third-largest city and has been besieged by Iran-backed Houthi rebels for about seven years, “creating a blockade of essential goods and humanitarian supplies for the city’s residents”, the UN said.
The conflict in Yemen has been simmering for more than a decade. In 2012, protesters toppled then-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, a year after the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings swept through the region.
In 2014, Iran-backed Houthi rebels took control of the capital Sanaa and eventually ousted then-president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
“Since 2015, a Saudi-led coalition supporting the internationally recognized government has been fighting for control of the Arab nation, along with the Houthi militia, which controls the capital and much of northern Yemen,” the UN said in a statement.
“Tens of thousands of civilians have died during the bitter conflict and the UN estimates that 17 million people remain food insecure in Yemen, with projections showing that by the end of this year the number of people suffering from high levels of acute food insecurity could reach 3.9 million,” the UN added.
The UN said the WFP food supply “is crucial to averting potential famine and a continuing food security crisis”.