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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 13 November 2018

Yemen government welcomes push for peace talks with rebels

New impetus to end war comes as both sides prepare for battle for Hodeidah city

Soldiers of the Saudi-led coalition forces gesture as they guard ships docked in the southern Yemeni port of Aden on October 29, 2018. AFP
Soldiers of the Saudi-led coalition forces gesture as they guard ships docked in the southern Yemeni port of Aden on October 29, 2018. AFP

Yemen's government on Thursday welcomed international calls to resume UN-led peace talks, as the port city of Hodeidah braced for a renewed offensive.

The United Nations said on Wednesday that it aimed to relaunch peace talks within a month, after a previous attempt collapsed in September when the rebels refused to attend.

"We are ready to negotiate on the process of confidence-building, primarily the release of all detainees and prisoners, as well as those who have been abducted or subject to enforced disappearance," a Yemeni official told The National.

"We welcome all efforts to restore peace, and to stop the Houthi rebels from committing atrocities," he said.

Washington this week called for an immediate end to the hostilities in Yemen, in its strongest statement yet on the three-year-old conflict. Pentagon chief James Mattis said on Tuesday that talks must happen within the next 30 days.

"We have got to move toward a peace effort here, and we can't say we are going to do it sometime in the future," Mr Mattis said at the US Institute of Peace in Washington.

Warring parties must “meet in Sweden in November and come to a solution, not talk about subordinate issues”, he said.

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During the last six months, the United Nations has pushed for a political deal to end the conflict. Martin Griffiths, the UN envoy to Yemen, hinted that a “major deal” was expected to be reached by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, government forces backed by the Saudi-led Arab military coalition and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels have been stepping up preparations for a battle for the vital port city.

The coalition has deployed an additional 10,000 for a new offensive to liberate the city, while the rebels have been reinforcing their defences.

"Forces of Al Amalikah brigades along with troops from the Sudanese forces arrived near the city on Wednesday night," Aseel Al Sakladi, director of Al Amalikah media centre, told The National.

"Preparations for battle will include the use of new heavy weaponry including modern UAE tanks," a lieutenant told The National on condition of anonymity.

He said the operation was being planned with new military tactics to ensure the safety of thousands of civilians living under rebel control.

Pro-government forces surrounded the city as confrontations with the rebels intensified on Wednesday night.

"The Arab coalition launched several air strikes that targeted gatherings of Houthi fighters in the west of Hodeidah," said Mohamed Qaid, a resident in southern Hodeidah.

Residents of the city told The National that the Houthis had started digging deep trenches and building walls inside Hodeidah and at Al Saleef harbour, planting thousands of mines along the roads leading to the port, and positioning citizens as human shields

The port is the entry point for more than 70 per cent of food and aid imports to the country, which is on the brink of famine.

Aid agencies are struggling to find a way to ensure relief reaches millions of civilians who are on the brink of famine, especially in Houthi-held areas, despite assistance from the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the leading members of the coalition.