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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 July 2018

It is time for Houthis to withdraw completely from Hodeidah

The rebels' apparent willingness to talk must be matched by concrete action, not just words

Yemeni government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition take position during an attack to liberate the port city of Hodeidah. Najeeb Almahboobi / EPA
Yemeni government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition take position during an attack to liberate the port city of Hodeidah. Najeeb Almahboobi / EPA

The Saudi-led coalition’s operation in Hodeidah was always a means to an end. Its mission was endowed with a higher goal than merely driving out the Houthis: it aims to provide long-term humanitarian aid and food to desperate Yemenis, to restore the legitimate government to power and to bring the conflict that has plagued Yemen for years to an end to restore stability to a fractured land and usher in normality for its beleaguered people, who have languished for too long under Houthi misrule.

After making significant military gains in Hodeidah since June 13, the coalition is focusing on restarting the political process, enshrined in UN Security Resolution 2216, which demands an end to Houthi violence and a complete withdrawal of their troops. Despite its significant losses, the militia now has the opportunity to do the honourable thing and come to the table to agree a peaceful handover of the port city of Hodeidah. Speaking in Washington on Friday, Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE’s ambassador to the US, reaffirmed the Emirates’ support for the efforts undertaken by Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy for Yemen, to bring all parties to the negotiating table.

Mr Griffiths, for his part, is optimistic about effecting a transition of power and control to the UN. In an interview with UN radio, he said he hoped that the end result would be a stable government. The UAE's ambassador to the UN, Lana Nusseibeh, added the country was poised and ready to help Yemenis rebuild their country "when the time comes".

The obstacle to achieving this outcome is Houthi resistance, fuelled by its Iranian backers. Although the rebels' decimated ranks and significant losses mean defeat is inevitable, they appear determined to fight to the bitter end, no matter the cost to innocent civilians, whom they have been using as human shields in the battle. The Houthis have yet to make any voluntary concessions, despite numerous attempts at diplomacy, nor displayed any desire for peace. Contrast this with the conduct of Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, the legitimate president, who has conveyed his willingness to talk to the very people who staged a coup against his government.

There is no trace of such a forebearing vision among the Houthis. Having converted the seaport in Hodeidah into a gateway for weapons smuggled in from Iran – and stolen aid intended for starving masses before selling it at inflated costs to finance their reign of terror – they joined forces with Hezbollah fighters to place Yemen under Tehran’s control. A senior leader from the Iran-backed militant organisation Hezbollah is thought to be on the ground in Hodeidah, presumably to supervise anti-government operations. But the Houthis are now engaged in a losing battle; total defeat awaits them. Faced with the prospect of extinction, they now want to talk – but they must follow their words with concrete deeds. They have a chance to spare the people of Hodeidah any more unnecessary suffering. It is time they acted on it with a complete withdrawal.