Yemen envoy renews push for talks over Hodeida assault

Yemen envoy renews push for talks over Hodeida assault
Yemen envoy renews push for talks over Hodeida assault

Griffiths hopes the UN Security Council will come up with a plan next week and present it to the Yemenis

People displaced by the fighting near the Red Sea port city of Hodeida carry blankets and other aid kits they received from United Nations agencies.

Dubai: Yemen’s warring parties have confirmed their willingness to restart negotiations after a two-year hiatus, the UN special envoy for Yemen said even as fighting raged along the country’s west coast over a key port city.

Martin Griffiths told the UN radio late on Thursday that he plans to bring Yemen’s Iran-backed miltiants, known as Al Houthis, and the country’s internationally-recognised government backed by a Saudi-led coalition to the negotiating table within the next few weeks “at the very latest.”

He said he hopes the UN Security Council will come up with a plan next week and present it to the Yemenis.

On Thursday, Yemeni government forces unleashed a surprise attack against Al Houthis ahead of a looming battle to retake the Red Sea city of Hodeida from Al Houthis.

The government forces, supported by a Saudi-led coalition, carried out a massive dawn offensive along the coastline against Al Houthis after military reinforcements were sent to the militants in the area for a redeployment attempt, the source told pan-Arab newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat.

The attack left dozens of Al Houthis dead or injured with the government forces seizing a cache of arms earlier looted by Al Houthis from the government’s depots, the source said.

This month, government forces, backed by the Arab Coalition, unleashed an onslaught dubbed “Golden Victory” aimed at expelling Al Houthis from Hodeida, a Red Sea city of around 600,000 people.

The offensive is the largest in Yemen’s three-year-old war.

Hodeida is strategically important because it has a harbour is a lifeline for millions of Yemenis, as most of the commercial imports and relief supplies enter through it to the country.

It also serves as a conduit for Iran to smuggle in weapons to the militants.

Analysts believe the city’s capture will cut Al Houthis off from vital supplies and weapons and tip the scales against them in the three-year civil war.

Last week, coalition forces seized complete control of the Hodeida airport located around 10 kilometres from the harbour.

The takeover of the sprawling airport has dealt a major blow to Al Houthis, who have been in control of Hodeida since October 2014, a month after they overran the capital Sana’a in a coup against the internationally-recognised government.

Government forces are expected to start a new battle soon to regain control of Hodeida and its port after efforts by Griffiths to negotiate a peaceful settlement hit a roadblock.

President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi Wednesday insisted on Al Houthis’ complete retreat from the city and its port after Griffiths told the Yemeni leader that Al Houthis are ready to hand over the port to the UN.

Hadi also demanded government forces enter Hodeida in order to maintain security in the city.

In recent weeks, Griffiths have stepped up his efforts to stave off an all-out battle in Hodeida and relaunch a long-deadlocked peace process for Yemen but to no avail.

The Yemeni government has defended its position.

“One cannot imagine that managing and securing the port can be separated from the city of Hodeida,” Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled Al Yamani said in a statement

“Security and stability cannot be established on the West Coast and international navigation cannot be protected without militias leaving the entire province.”

The Arab Coalition accuses Al Houthis of using Hodeida as a launch pad for attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and for smuggling in weapons.

Coalition aircraft on Thursday dropped leaflets, warning civilians against going to Hodeida and adjoining areas unless necessary, the Dubai-based television Al Arabiya reported.

In response to their latest losses in the coalition campaign for Hodeida, Al Houthis are using the city’s civilians as human shields.

The militants have barred civilians from leaving the embattled city for safer areas, according to Al Arabiya.

Al Houthis have forced hundreds of fleeing families to return to Hodeida and prevented 25 buses carrying locals heading to the neighbouring province of Ibb from leaving, the television said.

The restrictions are aimed at hampering the government forces’ advance on the city.

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