DUBAI (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates said on Sunday it had halted its military campaign against the Iran-aligned Houthis for control of Yemen’s main port city of Hodeidah to support U.N. efforts to reach a political solution.
U.N. special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, has been shuttling between the warring parties to avert an all-out attack on the port, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis. He said on Thursday that he hoped negotiations could restart in the next few weeks.
A coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE launched an offensive on Hodeidah on June 12 in the largest battle of the war that the United Nations fears risks triggering a famine in Yemen where an estimated 8.4 million people are on the verge of starvation.
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 Hodeida city and port. We have paused our campaign to allow enough time for this option to be fully explored. We hope he will succeed,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said on Twitter.
U.N. efforts may face a major challenge over control of the city.
The Houthis have offered to hand over management of Hodeidah port to the United Nations as part of an overall ceasefire in the governorate. The Saudi-led coalition said Houthi fighters must quit the western coast, including Hodeidah city, but the Houthis have already said they would not withdraw.
Griffiths has not said who would hold military control of the city under U.N. management.
The United Nations hopes a breakthrough on Hodeidah could lead to a wider solution to the conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people.
The condition for a full withdrawal by the Houthis from Saudi Arabia and its allies has led to previous peace talks to collapse, and in his comments on Sunday Gargash made clear that if this was to happen again, the UAE would continue its military campaign.
“Failing these patient efforts, we believe that continued military pressure will ultimately bring the liberation of Hodeida and force the Houthis to engage seriously in negotiations.”
The Western-backed coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 to restore the internationally recognized government in exile, but since then neither side has made much progress in the conflict, widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Griffiths is expected to hold a second round of talks with ousted President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi on Monday in the southern city of Aden, temporary headquarters of the exiled government, Yemeni officials said.
The war has caused the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis, with 22 million Yemenis dependent on aid.
The Houthis have so far not willingly yielded any territory they seized. U.N. talks on a political deal collapsed in 2016 when Hadi’s government walked out after the Houthis refused to quit Yemen’s three main cities, including Sanaa and Hodeidah.
Hodeidah port is the entry point for the bulk of Yemen’s commercial imports and critically-needed aid supplies.
The Arab states say they must recapture Hodeidah to deprive the Houthis of their main source of income and prevent them from smuggling in Iranian-made missiles, which have targeted Saudi cities. The group and Tehran deny the accusations.
Reporting By Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai and Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Raissa Kasolowsky