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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Houthi rebels resume attacks in Hodeidah

A proposed UN resolution circulated on Monday urging Yemen's warring parties to relaunch peace talks

Yemeni pro-government forces patrol at a road during a truce in the port city of Hodeidah. EPA
Yemeni pro-government forces patrol at a road during a truce in the port city of Hodeidah. EPA

As a peace drive to end years of war in Yemen gains pace, Houthi rebels resumed attacks around the country’s main port city, undermining attempts to secure a lasting ceasefire ahead of negotiations.

A proposed UN resolution circulated in the Security Council on Monday urged Yemen's warring parties to relaunch negotiations to end the three-year conflict and take urgent steps to tackle the world's worst humanitarian crisis, which has pushed the country to the brink of famine.

The Security Council resolution, according to the Associated Press, calls on Yemen's internationally recognised government and rival Houthi rebels to agree to a ceasefire around the key port of Hodeidah, including a halt to Houthi missile and drone attacks and for all roadblocks to the delivery of humanitarian aid to be removed within two weeks.

Kuwait's UN Ambassador Mansour Al Otaibi, the Arab representative on the Security Council, said he had "problems" with the draft resolution and hoped they would be addressed before a vote.

Negotiations on the draft are scheduled for Tuesday.

The British-drafted resolution, which expresses "unqualified support" for efforts by UN special envoy Martin Griffiths to bring warring parties to the negotiation table, came only days after the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash affirmed the Arab Coalition's support for Yemen peace talks, which are set to be held in Sweden.

It also came almost a week after the Saudi-led coalition ordered a temporary halt to its offensive against Houthi rebels occupying parts of Hodeidah, raising hopes that a more lasting ceasefire could be reached.

The prospects of a lasting truce gained a boost on Monday when Mohammed Ali Al Houthi, head of the Iran-backed rebel group's Higher Revolutionary Committee, called for the Houthis to stop missile and drone attacks, in a show of support for peace efforts.

But hopes were dashed when Houthi rebels resumed attacks in Hodeidah on Monday night and fired a ballistic missile towards Saudi Arabia, Yemeni information minister Moamer Al Eryani said on Twitter, adding that the missile missed its target and crashed on the Yemeni side of the border.

"I confirm to the UN envoy and the international community that the Houthi militias have no covenant, no charter, no principles, and no culture of peace,” he wrote.

Houthi rebels also shelled positions of pro-government forces in Al Khamseen street, Sanaa street and Al Saleh city, Colonel Mamoon Al Mahjami, spokesperson of the pro-government Al Amalikah forces told The National. Those forces responded, he said.

"It was clear from the beginning that the Houthi militia doesn't have a real intention to halt attacks. We are familiar with how they work. The truce for them means gaining more time to reorganise their ranks and mobilise more fighters to replace those who died or escaped the frontline,” he added.

Colonel Al Mahjami claimed Houthi rebels plan to draw hundreds of reinforcements from Sanaa and Amran province to help boost their forces in Hodeidah. He said the rebel group is planning to use celebrations for the Prophet Mohammed's birthday as a front to call in all of these fighters.

The commander called on residents of Houthi-controlled parts of Hodeidah to avoid rebel celebrations, which he says should not be held in light of violations committed by the group.

"How can Houthis celebrate the prophet’s birthday while they are killing thousands of Muslims and blowing up hundreds of mosques and burning the Holy Quran in many mosques all over our country?” he asked.

Meanwhile, residents of Hodeidahh said rebels continued to fortify their defences in anticipation of more fighting.

Speaking to The National on the condition of anonymity, one resident said rebels were digging trenches and building barricades in and around Hodeidah's port.

They also leveraged the temporary halt in operations by the Saudi-led coalition to transfer heavy weapons into houses in densely-populated parts of the city, in an attempt to shield their arsenal from coalition airstrikes, the resident said.

Simultaneously, rebels stormed houses and rounded up suspects they accuse of cooperating with the Arab coalition, residents said.

"On Sunday, the Houthis stormed the house of my neighbour who works in a university in Hodeidahh because he refused to fight with them,” a resident who asked not to be named told The National.

“They took him to their many detentions in the city centre,” the resident said.

The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital of Sanaa by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who toppled the government of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi. The Saudi-led coalition allied with the government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.

Hodeidah and surrounding areas have been the centre of recent fighting between the rival forces. Yemenis are completely reliant on commercial and humanitarian supplies of food, water, fuel, medicine and other essential supplies, and more than 70 per cent of those are shipped through rebel-held Hodeidah.

The draft resolution circulated on Monday welcomes the coalition's recent de-escalation in Hodeidah and calls on the Houthis "to respond in kind in order to allow urgent deliveries of assistance and flows of life-saving commercial imports". It also welcomes "the renewed commitment from the Yemeni parties to work on a political solution" under Mr Griffiths' leadership.

The resolution also condemns "the unlawful military use of civilian infrastructure" and drone and missile attacks by the Houthis against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It also expresses concern at reports of civilians being used as human shields.