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French envoy for Yemen meets Houthis, pushes aid effort

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s envoy for Yemen met the leaders of the Iran-aligned Houthis in the Yemeni capital on Wednesday as part of Paris’s efforts to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in the country, diplomatic and aid sources said.

France downgraded an international humanitarian conference on Yemen in June after forces of a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states fighting against the Houthis launched an offensive on the Houthi-controlled main port Hodeidah.

The Houthis control Yemen’s capital Sanaa and most of its populated areas, while the Arab states are fighting on behalf of an exiled government that has authority in the south. The war has brought about what the United Nations considers the most urgent humanitarian crisis in the world, with millions of people potentially facing famine.

“The objective of the envoy’s (Christian Testot) visit was humanitarian, to update the Houthis on the results of the June 27 experts meeting and to see what concrete results can be achieved on the ground,” a French diplomatic source said, confirming a report by Le Figaro newspaper.

U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths has been shuttling between the warring parties to avert an all-out assault on Hodeidah that the United Nations fears will exacerbate the humanitarian crisis. Hodeidah’s seaport is the main lifeline for aid to reach most Yemenis.

The United Nations says the Houthis have offered to hand over management of the port to the world body as part of an overall ceasefire in Hodeidah province, but the coalition has said that the Houthis must quit the western coast.

An aid source said French officials were hoping to use the meeting to persuade the Houthis to fully back a U.N. plan. They would also discuss the fate of a French national who has been in Houthi hands since his sailboat had technical difficulties off the Yemeni coast in June.

France, like other Western countries, is friendly to the Arab states fighting against the Houthis. Along with the United States and Britain, it sells weapons to the coalition leaders Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Peter Graff