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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Houthi rebels fire missile at Hodeidah port, threatening ceasefire

The missile missed its target and crashed in the sea

Yemeni pro-government troops stand in front of a damaged building during military operations against the Houthi rebels in the port city of Hodeidah, Yemen. EPA/STRINGER
Yemeni pro-government troops stand in front of a damaged building during military operations against the Houthi rebels in the port city of Hodeidah, Yemen. EPA/STRINGER

Houthi rebels fired a ballistic missile at the Hodeidah port on late Wednesday, only hours after forces loyal to Yemen’s government announced a halt in an offensive on the critical harbour.

The Emirates News Agency (ENA) said that the missile missed its target and crashed in the sea. The Saudi-led coalition’s air force had tracked the missile, ENA said, adding that it was fired from Hodeidah’s Al Salif district.

It was not immediately clear whether the strike would nullify a ceasefire announced hours earlier.

Forces loyal to Yemen's government on Wednesday halted an offensive on the lifeline port of Hodeida as the United Arab Emirates, a key member of the pro-government coalition, threw its weight behind "early" UN peace talks.

Three military officials told AFP that pro-government forces were "ordered" to stop their assault against the Iran-linked Houthi rebels until further notice, but would resume operations should the insurgents attack.

The UAE state minister for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said meanwhile his country welcomed the "early convening of UN-led talks in Sweden" and urged warring factions to take advantage of diplomatic efforts.

The UN is pushing for peace talks by the end of the year, and Sweden said it is ready to host them.

The developments came after the offensive on Hodeida by pro-government forces and the Saudi-led coalition, including the UAE, appeared to stall.

Earlier on Tuesday, the minister of technical education and vocational training Mohsen Ali Al Nakib announced on Tuesday his defection from the Iran-backed Houthi militia, following in the footsteps of Abdul-Salam Ali Gaber, another former member of the rebel group.

A source close from the Houthis told The National the rebel group is keeping a close watch on a number of ministers, and deploying soldiers to keep guard on the home of the Houthi head of government Abdul Aziz bin Habtoor, the minister of foreign affairs and the minister of tourism.

"The defection of the two ministers split the ranks...and created a mistrust between top leaders and ministers," said the source, who asked to remain anonymous.

Members of the General People's Congress (GPC) who remained in Sanaa following a Houthi takeover in 2015 and officials who don't belong to the rebel movement are also being watched by Houthi members, the source added.

Rebel politicians have called on their top leader Abdul Malik Al Houthi to sack ministers suspected of wanting to defect and replace them with loyalists.

Abdul-Salam Ali Gaber who defected on Sunday was the most senior member of the Houthi administration to defect since the civil war broke out in 2014, dealing a blow to the rebels' often portrayed image of cohesion as they battle an offensive by a Saudi-led coalition to retake the key Red Sea port city of Hodeidah.