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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 July 2018

UN envoy hopes to restart Yemen peace talks next month

Arab coalition spokesman says control of Hodeidah airport 'imminent' 

UN envoy Martin Griffith, left, talks to Houthi representatives during a meeting in Sanaa, Yemen, on June 16, 2018. Yahra Arhab / EPA
UN envoy Martin Griffith, left, talks to Houthi representatives during a meeting in Sanaa, Yemen, on June 16, 2018. Yahra Arhab / EPA

UN special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths hopes to restart talks on a peace plan next month, as the Arab coalition said control of the airport of the key port city of Hodeidah was imminent.

Mr Griffiths — who has for days been holding talks with the Houthis in the rebel-held capital of Sanaa — briefed the Security Council behind closed doors on his discussions.

He told the council on Monday that a first round of preliminary talks could take place next month to restart negotiations on a political transition, reported AFP, citing two diplomats in the chamber.

Russian Deputy Ambassador Dmitry Polyansky said the council renewed its call for the port of Hodeidah, the entry point for vital aid deliveries and commercial goods, to remain open.

"We hope that nothing terrible happens in Hodeidah,” said Mr Polyansky, whose country holds the council presidency this month.

The Arab coalition — which includes Saudi Arabia and the UAE — launched an offensive on Hodeidah on June 13 to flush out the rebels and box them into Sanaa, cut off their supply lines and force them to work on a political process. The coalition intervened in March 2015 at the request of the internationally recognised government of Yemeni President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi.

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UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash said the assault aimed “to help the UN envoy 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 on Monday. "This is not the time to negotiate."

He also said that the port remains operational as ships continue to register to come in and will unload aid in the coming days.

“We have planned diligently around the humanitarian side; the operation should allow the port to function as long as we can,” he said.

The Yemeni government and the coalition say that the Iran-backed Houthis must completely withdraw from the city and hand over control to the UN. However, the rebels have so far only agreed to share control with the UN of the key port — which the militias have been using to smuggle weapons into the country provided by Tehran.

UN aid chief Mark Lowcock told the council that so far, the humanitarian impact had been limited, diplomats said.

Arab coalition spokesman Col Turki Al Malki said that it was only a matter of time before Yemen government forces — supported by the Saudi-led alliance — take control of the Hodeidah airport.

''The chaotic militia is dying, and in its worst condition,'' the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) quoted him as saying.

“Control of Hodeidah airport is imminent, especially after the control of the main ways of the city.”

Col Al Malki stressed the importance of supporting the legitimate forces of Yemen and the need to return life back to normal for the Yemenis.

“The port of Hodeidah is a strategic military target through which these terrorist militias receive the weapons provided to them from Iran to deliberately provoke chaos and corruption in Yemen,” he said.

More than 22 million people are in need of aid, including 8.4 million who are at risk of starvation, according to the UN, which considers the country to be the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The conflict has left up to 10,000 people dead in Yemen, already the Arab world's poorest country.