June 17, 2017 / 12:38 PM / 4 months ago

Yemen government agrees to U.N. Hodeidah plan, Houthis skeptical

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdel-Malek al-Mekhlafi attends the preparatory meeting of Arab Foreign ministers of the 28th Ordinary Summit of the Arab League at the Dead Sea, Jordan March 27, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

CAIRO (Reuters) - Yemen’s Saudi-backed government said on Saturday it agreed to a two-point plan advanced by the United Nations to ease suffering in the country’s civil war, but the Iran-aligned Houthi movement remained skeptical.

On Thursday the U.N. Security Council urged the warring parties to agree on a U.N.-brokered plan to keep the Houthi-held port of Hodeidah out of the fighting and to resume government salary payments.

The U.N. has proposed that Hodeidah, a vital aid delivery point on the Red Sea where some 80 percent of Yemen’s food imports arrive, should be turned over to a neutral party. The U.N. Security Council warned the Saudi-led Arab coalition, that is fighting the Houthis, against any attempt to extend the war to the port.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdel-Malek al-Mekhlafi said in a tweet his government renewed its acceptance of the proposals first made by U.N. Yemen envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed in May.

But a spokesperson for the Houthis said the Security Council through its statements was encouraging the Saudi-led alliance to resume its strikes and that they reserved the right to respond to any aggression.

FILE PHOTO: Houthi fighters ride on the back of a patrol truck as they secure a road, as protesters march, denouncing plans by the Arab coalition to attack Hodeidah, from Yemen's capital Sanaa to the port city of Hodeidah April 19, 2017. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

“We reaffirm that the army and local committees have all the right and legality to respond to the alliance,” a statement by spokesperson Mohammed Abdelsalam said.

Yemen has been torn apart by more than two years of civil war that pits the Houthi group against the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, which is backed by the Saudi-led alliance. More than 10,000 people have died in the conflict and hunger is widespread.

United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, speaks to reporters upon his arrival at Sanaa airport on a visit to Sanaa, Yemen May 22, 2017. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

The Saudi-led coalition has accused the Houthis of using Hodeidah to smuggle in weapons and ammunition and has called for U.N. monitors to be posted there. The Houthi movement denies the allegations.

Many thousands of Yemeni state workers are also facing destitution as their salaries have gone largely unpaid for several months after the internationally-recognized government shifted Yemen’s central bank to Aden from the capital Sanaa, which is controlled by the Houthis.

U.N. Yemen envoy Ould Cheikh Ahmed had told the Security Council on May 30 that he had proposed a deal to avoid military clashes in Hodeidah to be negotiated in parallel with an agreement to resume civil service salary payments nationally.

However, he noted the Houthis and the allied General People’s Congress, the party of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, would not meet with him.

Reporting By Mostafa Hashem and Mohamed Ghobari; Writing By Maha El Dahan; Editing by Stephen Powell

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