Yemen Houthis welcome talks with Saudi-led coalition, but in a neutral country

A Shi'ite Houthi fighter sits behind sandbags near a checkpoint in Sanaa December 17, 2014. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

RIYADH, March 16 (Reuters) - Yemen's Houthi group said on Wednesday it would welcome talks with the Saudi-led coalition if the venue is a neutral country, including some Gulf states, and that the priority is lifting "arbitrary" restrictions on Yemeni ports and Sanaa airport.

The Saudi-based Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) plans to invite Yemeni parties including the Houthis for consultations in Riyadh this month, two Gulf officials told Reuters on Tuesday. read more

"It is neither logical, nor fair that the host of the talks is also the sponsor of war and blockade," the Iran-aligned movement said in a statement on the official news agency.

Riyadh leads a military coalition that has been battling the Houthis for seven years in a conflict widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

GCC members Oman, where some Houthi officials are based, and Kuwait, which hosted previous peace talks in 2015, would be a more neutral ground for such consultations.

The U.N. and the United States, trying to engineer a truce, have pressed Riyadh to lift sea and air restrictions on Houthi-held areas to alleviate a dire humanitarian crisis. The coalition says the blockade aims to prevent arms smuggling.

The U.N. special envoy has been holding talks with Yemeni parties to build a framework for inclusive political negotiations to end the war that has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.

The alliance intervened in March 2015 after the Houthis ousted the internationally recognised government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014. The group says it is fighting a corrupt system and foreign aggression.

The United Nations on Wednesday received only $1.3 billion in pledges towards a $4.27 billion aid plan for Yemen where the humanitarian drive had seen funding dry up even before global attention turned to the conflict in Ukraine. read more

Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Catherine Evans and Nick Macfie

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