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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Houthis shell Hodeidah as Arab Coalition discusses Yemen humanitarian crisis

Saudi Ambassador to Yemen says talks had been fruitful

Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed Bin Saeed Al Jaber and his US counterpart Matthew H Tueller speak as they arrive at Mukalla airport, southwestern Yemen, in November. AFP
Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed Bin Saeed Al Jaber and his US counterpart Matthew H Tueller speak as they arrive at Mukalla airport, southwestern Yemen, in November. AFP

Renewed clashes in Hodeidah on Saturday saw Houthi rebels shelling government-controlled areas inside Yemen's port city, Lt Mohammed Qaid of the Al Amalikah brigades told The National.

"Last night the clashes intensified between the Houthis and troops affiliated with the National Resistance led by Maj Gen Tariq Saleh in Zayed Street and in the Dar Al Salam neighbourhood where," Lt Qaid said on Sunday. "The Arab Coalition jets launched several airstrikes on Saturday night targeting Houthi gatherings and weapons hideouts."

On Saturday the Arab coalition along with the US and the UK held a meeting in Riyadh with UN officials to discuss Yemen's deteriorating humanitarian and economic situation.

Held at the headquarters of the Saudi Development and Reconstruction Programme for Yemen, the meeting was chaired by the Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed Bin Said Al Jaber.

Mr Al Jaber said the meeting focused on the humanitarian situation and the aid mechanisms in Yemen and ways of improving the country’s ability to meet the challenges it faces — whether those presented by Iran-backed Houthi militias, deteriorating living conditions, or the Yemeni economy.

Mr Al Jaber said the discussions were fruitful and would be followed by more meetings.

UN aid chief Mark Lowcock warned on Saturday that Yemen was "on the brink of a major catastrophe", as the world body pushes for peace talks in the Arab world’s poorest country.

His comments came after renewed deadly clashes between Houthi rebels and pro-government forces in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, which is vital for the flow of humanitarian aid.

"Yemen is on the brink of a major catastrophe," Mr Lowcock said, as he wrapped up a visit to the country.

He said conditions had deteriorated alarmingly since his last visit in October 2017 to Yemen, which the United Nations has termed the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The Saudi-backed pro-government forces have largely suspended an offensive launched in June to take the port city.

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Sporadic fighting has however continued since a fragile truce began on November 13.

Riyadh accused the Houthis of launching a military projectile across the border on Friday, saying it hit a house and injured two people in the kingdom, the official Saudi-state news agency reported.

The violence follows a visit to Hodeidah last month by UN envoy Martin Griffiths to press for talks.

The proposed peace talks have been backed by both the rebels and the Saudi-led government and were expected to take place in Sweden next week.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, however, has played down the early December schedule and said he hoped talks would start this year.

"But, as you know, there have been some setbacks," he said on Thursday.

Previous talks planned for September in Geneva failed to get underway when the Houthi delegation didn't leave Yemen's rebel-held capital Sanaa, arguing that the United Nations could not guarantee their safe return.

Mr Lowcock said it was "not too late" to pull back Yemen from the brink but warned that more resources were needed.

"Yemen is the world's largest humanitarian operation, but in 2019 it will need to be substantially bigger," he said.

The latest warnings come as President Donald Trump's administration faces mounting pressure over its backing for the Saudi-led military campaign, with the US Senate on Wednesday voting to consider a resolution that would end this support.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged the humanitarian crisis in Yemen had reached "epic proportions", but insisted that US backing for Riyadh's actions would continue.

According to UN figures, nearly 10,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led coalition joined the conflict in 2015 to bolster the government against Houthi rebels.