Assault on Yemen’s Hodeida halted as UN pursues talks

SANAA: The coalition on Sunday announced it had halted the offensive against Ansarullah fighters in Yemen’s port city of Hodeida to give a chance to UN diplomatic efforts. In a series of tweets, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said the pause was aimed at pursuing negotiations for an unconditional withdrawal from the port but warned that full military action could resume. The weeks-long offensive on Hodeida — Yemen’s main port — has raised fears of further suffering and deprivation in a country already deeply shaken by years of war.
Pointing to a renewed push for a negotiated settlement by UN envoy Martin Griffiths, Gargash said: “We have paused our campaign to allow enough time for this option to be fully explored. We hope he will succeed.”
He said the pause had been in effect since June 23 and while there was continued “pressure on the parameter”, pro-government forces were awaiting the results of an upcoming visit by Griffiths to the Ansarullah-held capital Sanaa. Griffiths met Hadi in the southern city of Aden last Wednesday and is reported to be pushing for the Ansarullah fighters to cede control of Hodeida to the United Nations.
Hadi demanded a full withdrawal from the city, which has been the target of a weeks-long military offensive by the Yemeni government and its regional allies.
The rebels have said they may be willing to share control of Hodeida’s port with the United Nations but say their forces must remain in the docks and the rest of the Red Sea city.
The Ansarullah has controlled Hodeida and its port since 2014, when they drove the Hadi government out of the capital and seized large swathes of northern Yemen.
On June 13, the coalition, including Saudi Arabia, launched a massive military operation — dubbed “Golden Victory” — to drive Ansarullah out of the port.
Pro-government forces managed to seize control of Hodeida’s airport in mid-June after days of heavy fighting but did not immediately push forward into the city, home to some
600,000 people and about 150 km west of Sanaa.
The fighting has claimed 429 lives, according to military and
medical sources.
There are no confirmations of civilian casualties.
The UN, however, has documents thousands of residents fleeing combat zones.
Gargash said the operation has succeeded in “forcing the Ansarullah to make concessions” but said it remained to be seen “whether the Ansarullah are engaging seriously with this process or using it as a tactic to buy time”.
“Failing these patient efforts we believe that continued military pressure will ultimately bring the liberation of Hodeida and force the Ansarullah to engage seriously in negotiations.”
Earlier, Griffiths met top rebel negotiator Mohammed Abdul Salam, UN radio reported.
Griffiths told the radio a proposal to grant the UN a major role in managing the Hodeida port was under study and spoke of progress.
Griffiths is expected in Aden, where the Hadi government is temporarily based, in the coming days for another round of talks, according to a source close to the president.
Some 70 per cent of imports to Yemen, where eight million people face imminent famine, flow through the port of Hodeida.
Nearly 10,000 people have died in the Yemen war since 2015. The United Nations has called Yemen the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. — AFP