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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 November 2018

Sulaiman Al Mazroui: Hodeidah operation to push Houthis to talks table

Offensive to liberate Hodeidah from Houthis does not mean gaps in humanitarian aid, envoy to UK says

UAE Ambassador Sulaiman Al Mazroui at his office in London. Stephen Lock for the National
UAE Ambassador Sulaiman Al Mazroui at his office in London. Stephen Lock for the National

The Arab Coalition has given assurances that there will be no interruption in the supply of humanitarian aid to Yemeni people as a result of the offensive to liberate the port city of Hodeidah, the UAE ambassador to Britain has said.

Warning that publicly expressed concerns over the impact of the military operations on humanitarian supplies passing through the port were “exaggerated”, Sulaiman Al Mazroui said there was extensive contingency planning underway ahead of the capture of Hodeidah.

"Over the last year we have been held hostage to the Houthis lies and evading negotiating a settlement and we cannot tolerate that," he said, pointing to disruption to aid flows at the gateway port, which is under the control of the Houthi rebels.

“What we want to do is to save civilian casualties. This is paramount for the coalition,” he said. “If the Houthis don’t damage the port by mining it, you have all the assurances that the coalition forces will not damage the port.

“The information we have is that some of this infrastructure has been mined,” he warned.

Speaking at the embassy in central London, Mr Mazroui said the coalition hoped to deliver improvements in the plight of Yemeni citizens.

“We think we can do a better job in Hodeidah,” he said. “They are exaggerating the shortages and the casualties that will ensue after the operation.

“I don’t think by liberating Hodeidah you will have more mouths to feed but because you have increased supplies from the coalition,” he added. “We have a contingency plan for the humanitarian flow of aid by air, by road and by sea.

“If the port is damaged and ships cannot be docked in, we have the option of ferrying supplies by road and by air. There will not be a gap between supplies.

“You cannot ensure the Houthi will not create havoc with the supply lines,” he said. “From our part we will ensure that the supplies will go smoothly.”

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More on the Hodeidah offensive

Offensive for the liberation of Hodeidah enters second day - live updates

Opinion: The battle of Hodeidah is a watershed moment in the Yemen war

Coalition countries pledge $1.25bn in humanitarian aid

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The offensive in Hodeidah was integral to the fundamental goal of the Arab Coalition since it first intervened in Yemen to restore the authority of the internationally-recognised government after an Iran-backed uprising more than three years ago.

“The Yemeni forces are the leading role and the coalition forces are the back up,” he said. “We are adamant about preventing Iran from controlling Yemen. We are adamant about preventing the establishment of another Hezbollah in Yemen.

“We are not going to wait until Iran is completely controlling Yemen,” he said.

The ambassador pointed out that the Houthi fighters were not native to the port and that the Coalition believed the population resented the militia regime. “We have signals from inside Hodeidah urging us to move in to liberate them from the Houthis who have been smuggling weapons and misusing aid,” he said. “We have evidence that the governor and a lot of the leadership in Hodeidah want the coalition to take over from the Houthis.”

With the special envoy of the UN Secretary General to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, due to deliver an update on Monday on his efforts to establish a peace process, the ambassador expressed dismay that efforts to persuade the Houthi leadership to cooperate had come to naught.

“What we’ve asked Martin Griffiths in the last 48 hours, please convince the Houthis to leave the port and the airport intact, to leave peacefully and there will be no civilian casualties, no damage to the city but they didn’t do that, they love to fight, to hold themselves to violence,” he said.

“We don’t think the capturing of Hodeidah will damage the peace. We think it will bring more pressure on the Houthis to sit down, rather than run away from the reality,” he said. “We are there because we want to stop the Houthis from smuggling missiles to attack Saudi Arabia and the coalition. We are also there to make sure the Houthis sit down and negotiate a political settlement. Without that pressure this will drag on.”

Mr Mazroui said that the US government and the French president Emmanuel Macron had been directly consulted about the assault. Western authorities, including those in London remained cautious. “The British were concerned, they wanted us to give more time to Martin Griffiths, which we did,” he said. “Going into Hodeidah may help Martin Griffiths by forcing the Houthis to the table.”