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Deminers attacked near grain stores in Yemen port

ADEN (Reuters) - A demining team came under gunfire while trying to clear access to grain silos in Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions facing starvation, with both parties to the conflict blaming the other for the incident late on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Hodeidah port's grain silos are pictured from a nearby shantytown in Hodeidah, Yemen June 16, 2018. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad/File Photo

The war pits the Iran-aligned Houthi movement against other forces loyal to the government of ousted President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, which is backed by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The Houthis said one of its members died when Saudi-led forces fired on a demining team. The internationally recognised Yemeni government said Houthis attacked a U.N.-backed team heading to the mills.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has since September been unable to access the Red Sea Mills, where 51,000 tonnes of U.N. wheat is stored - enough to feed 3.7 million people for a month.

U.N. officials were not immediately available to comment, while WFP only said it was aware of the reports.

The grain facility is at a frontline flashpoint on the eastern outskirts of the city. Last week, two silos were damaged by fire caused by suspected mortar shelling.

The Houthis said the incident was a violation of a U.N.-sponsored ceasefire for Hodeidah agreed in December peace talks.

“The other side’s audacity has reached the point of targeting an operation to clear the road and in the presence of the U.N. team overseeing it,” the movement said in a statement on Houthi-run media.

Yemeni government spokesman Rajeh Badi said Houthis attacked U.N. liasion officers belonging to the Yemeni government and an engineering team, preventing the team from reaching the silos. His statement was carried by Yemeni-government news agency Saba News.

The United Nations is trying to rescue the Hodeidah deal and implement a troop withdrawal.

The almost four-year war has long been in stalemate, with the Saudi-led coalition unable to dislodge the Houthi movement that took over the capital Sanaa in 2014 and now controls most major population centres.

The sides finally agreed a ceasefire and prisoner exchange at talks in Sweden last month.

The United Nations is pushing for the warring parties to finalise terms of the prisoner swap and implement it.

On Tuesday a Saudi prisoner held by the Houthis was released to Riyadh. In response, the Saudi-led coalition said seven Houthi prisoners would be released.

The ceasefire in Hodeidah has largely held, but violence continues in other parts of Yemen.

Alongside fighting between the Houthis and the coalition, al-Qaeda and Islamic State also have a presence.

On Monday, Abu Dhabi TV cameraman Ziad al-Sharabi died and his reporter colleague Faisal al-Dhahbani was injured in a blast in the government-held port town of al-Mokha, UAE state news agency WAM said. At least five others died.

Reporting by Mohamed Ghobari in Aden; Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Alison Williams and Andrew Cawthorne