U.N. Security Council urges warring Yemen parties to agree port control

UNITED NATIONS, June 15 (Reuters) - The United Nations Security Council urged the warring parties in Yemen on Thursday to reach a U.N. brokered deal on management of the strategic port and city of Hodeidah and resumption of government salary payments as the country slides closer to famine.

The United Nations has warned a Saudi Arabia-led Arab coalition fighting Iran-aligned Houthis against any attempt to extend the war to Hodeidah, a vital Red Sea aid delivery point where some 80 percent of Yemen’s food imports arrive.

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

Five cranes have been destroyed by coalition air strikes, forcing dozens of ships to line up offshore because they cannot be unloaded.

“The Security Council stresses the importance of keeping all Yemen’s ports functioning, including Hodeidah port, as a critical lifeline for humanitarian support and other essential supplies,” the 15-member body said in a statement.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday that the United States believed the port could be placed under the control of a third unnamed authority to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid.

“The Houthis would voluntarily turn that port over to a third authority, not the Saudis, not the Emiratis, and ... we would gain access,” Tillerson told a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee in Washington.

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

“These proposals would act as a confidence-building mechanism between the parties, with a view to a durable cessation of hostilities as a step towards the resumption of peace talks under U.N. leadership,” the Security Council statement said.

The United Nations has said nearly seven million people in Yemen are one step away from famine. (Reporting by Michelle Nichols; additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed; editing by Grant McCool)