Estimates show there are up to 3,000 Houthi fighters in the city
UAE's Gargash: Houthis must withdraw 'unconditionally' from Yemen's Hodeidah
Houthi rebels in Yemen must withdraw "unconditionally" from the key port city of Hodeidah, said the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash, as UN ceasefire efforts appeared to have fizzled on Monday.
The "Hodeida port operation will continue unless rebels withdraw unconditionally," he said during a press briefing in Dubai.
He added that the Arab coalition — which includes Saudi Arabia and the UAE — has kept the Hodeidah-Sanaa road "open for the Houthi militias to withdraw".
Dr Gargash said that estimates show there are up to 3,000 Houthi fighters in the city, and the operation aims to pressure the Houthis to withdraw from the city and avoid civilian casualties.
Dr Gargash also said that he hoped the UN would be able to convince the rebels to cede control of the port, which the Houthis have been using to smuggle Iran-supplied weapons into the country.
The "Iranian fingerprint is all over these arms", he said. "We are still counting on the UN attempt to pull a rabbit out of a hat."
The UAE official said that the assault aims "to help the UN envoy [Martin Griffiths] in his last chance to convince the Houthis to withdraw unconditionally from the city and avoid any confrontation."
"If this does not happen, be assured we are determined to achieve our targets," he said. "This is not the time to negotiate."
Dr Gargash denied that French troops have been helping the Arab coalition to take Hodeidah, but said that France has offered to remove mines when it becomes necessary.
Yemen government troops and the Arab coalition launched an offensive on the city on Wednesday in an attempt to box the rebels into the Houthi-held capital of Sanaa, cut off their supply lines and force them to work on a political process. The coalition intervened in the way in 2015 at the request of Yemen's internationally-recognised government.
Mr Griffiths was due to brief the Security Council later on Monday after two days of talks in Sanaa, where he met with officials of the Iran-backed group.
Several rounds of UN-brokered talks between the rebels and the government have failed. The Houthis have repeatedly refused a proposal to hand over control of Hodeidah to the UN, while the Yemeni government fears their grip on the port will cut off the only lifeline for millions of Yemenis facing starvation.
About 8.4 million are in danger of famine, according to the World Health Organisation.