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UAE pauses assault on Yemen’s Hodeidah as UN pushes for Houthi withdrawal

UN envoy is seeking a deal for Houthi rebels to cede control of the port city

The United Arab Emirates announced it had halted the offensive it is backing against Houthi rebels in Yemen’s port city of Hodeida, to give a chance to United Nations diplomatic efforts.

In a series of tweets, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said on Sunday, July 1 that the pause was aimed at pursuing negotiations for an unconditional withdrawal of Houthi rebels from the port but warned that full military action could resume.

“We welcome continuing efforts by U.N. Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, to achieve an unconditional Houthi withdrawal from Hodeidah city and port,” Gargash said. “We have paused our campaign to allow enough time for this option to be fully explored. We hope he will succeed.”

The weeks-long offensive on Hodeidah – Yemen’s main port – has raised fears of further suffering and deprivation in a country already deeply shaken by years of war between the Iran-backed Houthis and President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s Gulf-backed government.

Pointing to a renewed push for a negotiated settlement by U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths, Gargash said: “We have paused our campaign to allow enough time for this option to be fully explored. We hope he will succeed.”

He said the pause had been in effect since June 23 and while there was continued “pressure on the parameter,” pro-government forces were awaiting the results of an upcoming visit by Griffiths to the rebel-held capital Sana’a.

Griffiths met with Hadi in the southern city of Aden on Wednesday and is reported to be pushing for the Houthis to cede control of Hodeidah to the United Nations.

Hadi demanded a full rebel withdrawal from the city, which has been the target of a weeks-long military offensive by the Yemeni government and its regional allies, led by the UAE on the ground.

The rebels have said they may be willing to share control of Hodeida’s port with the United Nations but say their forces must remain in the docks and the rest of the Red Sea city.

‘Forcing concessions’

The Houthis have controlled Hodeida and its port since 2014, when they drove the Hadi government out of the capital and seized large swathes of northern Yemen.

On June 13, the UAE and its allies, including Saudi Arabia, launched a massive military operation – dubbed “Golden Victory” – to drive the rebels out of the port.

Pro-government forces managed to seize control of Hodeidah’s airport in mid-June after days of heavy fighting but did not immediately push forward into the city, home to some 600,000 people and about 150 kilometres (90 miles) west of Sana’a.

Gargash said the operation has succeeded in “forcing the Houthis to make concessions” but said it remained to be seen “whether the Houthis are engaging seriously with this process or using it as a tactic to buy time.”

“Failing these patient efforts we believe that continued military pressure will ultimately bring the liberation of Hodeidah and force the Houthis to engage seriously in negotiations.”

Some 70 percent of imports to Yemen, where eight million people face imminent famine, flow through the port of Hodeidah.

Nearly 10,000 people have died in the Yemen war since 2015, when Saudi Arabia and its allies joined the government’s fight against the Houthis.

The United Nations has called Yemen the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

More than 30,000 residents of Hodeidah and the province of the same name had fled their homes since the start of the offensive.

With reporting from AFP

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