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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 October 2018

UN envoy in Sanaa to urge Houthi withdrawal from Hodeidah

Martin Griffiths will try to persuade the rebel group to withdraw and avoid an assault on Hodeidah 

U.N. envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths talks with Faisal Abu-Rass, the undersecretary of the Houthi-led government's foreign ministry, upon his arrival in Sanaa REUTERS/Khaled Abdulla
U.N. envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths talks with Faisal Abu-Rass, the undersecretary of the Houthi-led government's foreign ministry, upon his arrival in Sanaa REUTERS/Khaled Abdulla

UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths arrived in Sanaa on Monday, as a pause in the Arab Coalition backed operation to recapture the city of Hodeidah from Houthi rebels entered its 10th day.

Presidential sources told Al Arabiya that Mr Griffiths had traveled to the rebel-held city with the intention of persuading the Houthis to withdraw unconditionally from Hodeidah.

The envoy was pictured meeting with the undersecretary of the Houthi rebel government's foreign ministry, Faisal Amin Abu Rass at Sanaa airport, but did not make a statement on his arrival.

Mr Griffith’s latest trip to the Houthi-held city, came just a day after UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs publicly acknowledged that a pause in the Hodeidah operation began on June 23, in order to give diplomatic efforts a space to succeed.

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Last week the rebels proposed maintaining a presence in the port and city, with the port’s administration being passed to the UN. The proposal was publicly rejected by both the government of Yemeni President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, and the Arab coalition, who have repeatedly stated they will accept nothing less than a full Houthi withdrawal from Hodeidah.

Mr Griffiths has said a proposal involving UN management of the port is being considered.

However, a spokesman for the Arab Coalition, Turki Al Maliki hit a skeptical note in a press conference on Monday. “The Houthis are not serious about negotiating; all they do is buy time.”

Despite the pause in the Hodeidah operation, advances continued on other fronts where coalition forces were battling the Iran-backed group.

Aseel Al Sakaldi of the Al Amalikah brigades told The National that whilst military operations in Hodeidah were on hold, efforts to control areas in the south, including Al Tuhaiyta, Zabeed and Al Faza, were ongoing.

Mr Al Sakaldi added that the Houthis had “ramped up their aggressive actions against civilians in Hodeidah” and that “Houthis in the city are challenging the patience practiced by the coalition to avert the city the military offensive.”

Mr Al Malki also announced advances elsewhere, particularly Saada province, adding that more than 811 Houthi fighters had been killed in operations by the Yemeni army and coalition forces the past two weeks in fighting across the country.

The operation to retake Hodeidah, named “Golden Victory” was launched on June 13. However, reluctant to engage in fighting in the city’s urban areas, coalition-backed forces have halted on the city’s periphery after recapturing the sprawling airport complex whilst diplomats scramble to find a diplomatic agreement.

The Arab coalition, led by the Saudi Arabia and the UAE intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015 at the request of the Hadi government.

Aid workers have described the city’s port as a humanitarian artery, through which 70 per cent of the country’s food and fuel enters. The Arab coalition has attempted to maintain the supply of food and aid into the city, even as the operation progressed.

On Monday the Emirates Red Crescent announced that aid distributions carried out over the past four days had reached as many as 35,000 people, whilst sever ships were able to unload goods at the city’s port on Sunday.