Dr Anwar Gargash said move would help UN special envoy's bid for 'unconditional' Houthi withdrawal
Arab Coalition pauses Hodeidah offensive to aid UN peace talks
The Arab Coalition has paused the military campaign against the Houthis in the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah in support of UN peace efforts for a political solution, despite violations by the Iran-backed rebels, the UAE said on Sunday.
In a series of tweets, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash publicly acknowledged a cessation of the operation – dubbed Golden Victory – that began on June 23, initially for one week.
“We welcome continuing efforts by UN Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, to achieve an unconditional Houthi withdrawal from Hodeidah city and port. We have paused our campaign to allow enough time for this option to be fully explored,” he wrote.
“It remains to be seen, however, whether the Houthis are engaging seriously with this process or using it as a tactic to buy time. They have declared that they intend to recapture the whole of Yemen, in defiance of the United Nations.”
Dr Gargash said the coalition would “continue our pressure on the parameter” of the city and “await results” from Mr Griffiths’ visit to Sanaa.
Continuing, he warned that if these "patient efforts" fail then the coalition would resume "military pressure" that would bring "the liberation of Hodeidah" and "force the Houthis to engage seriously in negotiations".
Sporadic clashes have taken place over the past week, but Arab Coalition-backed forces have refrained from launching a full-scale push for either the city or port since capturing the airport over a week ago, as the UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths scrambles to find a diplomatic solution.
In the past week, Mr Griffiths has jetted between Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, the southern city of Aden and Muscat, the Omani capital, for meetings with Houthi representatives and Yemeni government officials including President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi himself.
Mr Griffiths said last week that the Houthis had offered to cede administration of the port to the United Nations, an offer which fell short of government demands for a full Houthi withdrawal. The envoy added that he hoped “to make Hudaydah [sic] the first step towards peace in Yemen instead of a step further towards war”. He said on Thursday that both sides had indicated a “willingness to talk”.
On Sunday, Yemen’s Deputy Minister of Transport Nasser Sharif said that the Houthis had been responsible for the death of at least five of the port’s staff. The most recent murder came on Saturday when an employee called Mansur Salam Al Hakimi was killed.
In a series of defiant tweets on Sunday evening, President Hadi insisted that the UN must remain the basis of any discussions.
He said that “any negotiation or political process requires a genuine application of Resolution 2216,” which calls for the restoration of his authority as the country’s leader and a withdrawal of the Houthis from Sanaa and other cities.
He added that negotiations that did not fall into the framework were “no longer acceptable, our people and our nation can no longer tolerate further quirks to prolong this senseless war”.
A spokesperson for the Arab Coalition highlighted Hodeidah port’s continued operations, saying that seven ships had docked at the port on Sunday and that another seven where waiting nearby to unload goods.
Elsewhere, pro-government forces shot down a drone in Al Duraihimi, a southern district of Hodeidah province, the second such incident in a week. Local media reports suggested that the drone was Iranian-made and being used to spy on the coalition forces.
On Saturday, pro-government forces recaptured the first villages in the Al Sawadiya district of Al Bayda province, after fierce clashes in which a number of Houthi fighters were killed, and two were captured.
The Arab Coalition — spearheaded by Saudi Arabia and the UAE — intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015 at the request of the internationally-recognised government of President Hadi. Yemeni government forces — backed by the alliance — launched the offensive to retake on Hodeidah on June 13.