FRI 15 - 2 - 2019
Date: Jul 2, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Assault on Hudaida port halted as U.N. pursues talks
ABU DHABI/SANAA: The United Arab Emirates announced Sunday it had halted the offensive it is backing against the Houthi rebels in Yemen’s port city of Hudaida to give a chance to U.N. diplomatic efforts.

In a series of tweets, UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash acknowledged the week-old pause aimed at pursuing negotiations for an unconditional rebel withdrawal from the port but warned that full military action could resume.

The weekslong offensive on Hudaida – Yemen’s main port – has raised fears of further suffering and deprivation in a country already deeply shaken by years of war between the Iran-backed Houthis and President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi’s Gulf-backed government. The frontlines have been quiet in the past week.

“We welcome continuing efforts by UN Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, to achieve an unconditional Houthi withdrawal from Hudaida city and port.

“We have paused our campaign to allow enough time for this option to be fully explored. We hope he will succeed,” Gargash tweeted.

Gargash 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 rebel-held capital Sanaa.

The envoy has been talking to both sides to try and prevent an all-out assault.

The Houthis have offered to hand over management of the port to the U.N. as part of an overall cease-fire in the governorate.

The coalition said Houthi fighters must quit the western coast, including Hudaida city, but the rebels have already said they would not withdraw.

Griffiths has not said who would hold military control of the city under U.N. management.

In a speech published by the state-run Saba news agency Sunday, Hadi hailed the military for its “great victories” in the face of “the most dangerous project of Iranian expansion” Yemen faced. The Houthis have controlled Hudaida and its port since 2014, when they also drove the Hadi government out of the capital and seized large swathes of northern Yemen.

On June 13, the UAE and its allies, including Saudi Arabia, launched a massive military operation – dubbed “Golden Victory” – to drive the rebels out of the port. Pro-government forces managed to seize control of Hudaida’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 kilometers west of Sanaa.

The fighting has claimed 429 lives, according to military and medical sources. There are no confirmations of civilian casualties, although the U.N. has documented thousands of residents fleeing combat zones.

Gargash said the operation has succeeded in “forcing the Houthis to make concessions,” but it remained to be seen “whether the Houthis 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 Hudaida and force the Houthis to engage seriously in negotiations.”

Analysts have ruled out major concessions by the rebels in Hudaida without talks on the rest of Yemen’s territory. “The Houthis will not make concessions unless they are guaranteed the upper hand in central and northern Yemen,” said Yemeni analyst Najib Ghallab.

The regional pro-government alliance Sunday accused the Houthis of “holding hostage” ships docked in the Hudaida port.

Riyadh and its allies earlier imposed a major blockade on the port after a series of rebel missiles were fired from Yemen into Saudi Arabia.

The coalition accuses Iran of smuggling weapons to the Houthis through Hudaida port, a charge Tehran denies.

Griffiths was in Oman Thursday, where he met top rebel negotiator Mohammed Abdel-Salam. Griffiths spoke of progress and said a proposal to grant the U.N. a major role in managing the Hudaida port was being studied.

Both the UAE and the Hadi government have held firm to their refusal of anything short of a full withdrawal of the Houthi rebels from Hudaida.

The U.N. has not publicly commented on Griffiths’ talks on the Hudaida conflict. A source close to the Yemeni president said Griffiths was expected to return to Aden, where the Hadi government is temporarily based, for another round of talks.

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