Houthis said to agree to hand over Hodeidah to UN but fighting continues
SANA'A- Even with the UN special envoy’s shuttle diplomacy to broker a ceasefire in Yemen, the battle for Hodeidah continued and the internationally recognised Yemeni government demanded a complete pullout by the Houthis from the strategic port city.
Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi told UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths that, as a precondition to any peace deal, the Houthi rebels must withdraw from Hodeidah. Griffiths had previously met with Houthi leaders in Sana’a where the rebels said they would hand over control of Hodeidah to the United Nations.
“President Hadi insisted on the need for the Houthis to withdraw completely and without conditions from Hodeidah or face a military solution,” a Yemeni government source told Agence France-Presse.
Griffiths gave UN radio a positive assessment of the drive to resolve the 3-year-old conflict, saying he would like to convene a meeting of both parties “within the next few weeks.”
“Both parties have confirmed to me their willingness to come to the table to restart negotiations. I think it’s long overdue that that should take place. It’s been about two years since the last talks on Yemen,” he said.
Griffiths confirmed that the Houthi militia had offered to hand over control of the port to the United Nations, provided there was an overall ceasefire but it appears details are far from being agreed to.
“At the moment we are still in negotiations as to whether a UN role would help to avoid an attack and, more importantly — and this is where I think we’re going — whether, in fact, the restart of negotiations will mean the attack on Hodeidah or the move towards war will be avoided,” he said.
Hadi’s demand for a complete Houthi withdrawal was echoed by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia’s main partner in the Arab coalition fighting the Houthis.
“We continue to support the UN-led efforts in Hodeidah and Yemen,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Mohammad Gargash posted on Twitter before Hadi’s meeting with Griffiths.
“A UN-Yemeni led political process will accelerate with a Houthi decision to withdraw from Hodeidah and avoid a confrontation,” he wrote, adding that securing Hodeidah was an essential step towards a political conclusion.
Yemeni Deputy Minister of Information Najeeb Ghallab said battlefield strategies were designed to pressure the Houthis to return to the negotiating table as a precursor to surrender.
Ghallab said that to “bet on the political solution is not possible by virtue of the nature of the Houthi group and its doctrines.” He accused the Houthis of being war profiteers who see monetary losses should the conflict end.
Pro-government Yemeni troops and the Saudi-led coalition strengthened their military presence outside Hodeidah while securing liberated areas. They also targeted Houthi supply lines from At Tuhayat to Ad Durayhimi on Yemen’s west coast.
The Saudi-led coalition urged civilians to stay away from Hodeidah province.
Al Arabiya news channel quoted local sources as saying coalition planes dropped leaflets reading: “A call from the coalition: dear citizens, we urge you not to head to Hodeidah province and its neighbouring areas, unless it is necessary, for your own safety.”
The coalition reported that eight members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group were killed in north-western Yemen. The coalition said 41 “terrorist elements” had been attacked near Oqbat Marraan in the mountainous Saada region and members of Hezbollah were among those killed.
Iran is the main backer of Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Arab coalition previously noted Hezbollah’s presence in Yemen.
Hodeidah is believed to be the Houthi militia’s main source of weapons smuggled from Iran. Those weapons include missiles that have been fired into Saudi Arabia. Rebels also threatened to launch missile attacks against the United Arab Emirates.
The United Nations and several Western countries, including the United States, have said they were aware of Iran’s support for the Houthis through arms supplies.