The United Nations has proposed Yemen’s Houthi rebels withdraw from Hodeida as part of a ceasefire deal placing the flashpoint port city under joint control, according to a document seen by AFP on Monday, December 10.
The document, verified by two sources in a Yemeni government delegation at U.N.-brokered talks in Sweden, stipulates that the Saudi-led military coalition fighting the Houthis cease all operations in the rebel-held city in exchange for a Houthi withdrawal.
The area would then be put under the control of a joint committee and supervised by the United Nations.
The government was expected to issue a formal response to the proposal “soon,” state representative Hadi Haig told AFP.
“The special envoy’s paper is under study. The response will come soon, God willing,” Haig said on the sidelines of the talks.
Houthi representative Salim al-Moughaless said the rebels would only consider a withdrawal as part of a full political solution to the conflict.
“The discussion is long and ongoing,” Moughaless told AFP.
A U.N. official in Rimbo was also not immediately reachable for comment.
Peace talks between the Houthis and Yemen’s government began last week in Rimbo, Sweden in the latest bid to end the devastating civil war.
U.N. Special Envoy Mark Griffiths said the U.N. was willing to step in in Hodeidah, an offer the coalition has rejected unless the rebels withdraw completely from Yemen’s western coastline.
Griffiths previously said the Houthis had agreed to the U.N. taking a leading role in running Hodeidah.
The Hodeidah proposal is a significant step closer to the demands of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, whose government was driven out of the capital in a rebel takeover in 2014 that included the seizure of Hodeidah – the most valuable port in a country now at the brink of famine.
The Saudi-led military coalition, which includes troops trained by the United States and United Arab Emirates, has for months led an offensive to retake Hodeidah, the last rebel stronghold on Yemen’s Red Sea coast and the conduit for 90 percent of vital food imports.
The move has sparked fears for more than 150,000 civilians trapped in the city as even hospitals were seized by militants.
Saudi Arabia and its allies accuse the rebels of smuggling arms from Iran through Hodeidah, a charge Tehran denies.
Shipments to Hodeidah, including humanitarian aid, have been severely restricted by the coalition. Houthi fighters who are now ensconced in residential neighborhoods to fight government forces.
The U.N. has regularly urged the Saudi-led coalition to suspend its operations in the densely-populated city, home to 150,000 people and a vital conduit for aid across Yemen.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a U.N. official at the talks in Rimbo on Saturday evening said Hodeidah had proved the “most difficult” issue at the talks, the first since more than three months of talks collapsed in 2016.
Among the other issues under discussion in Sweden are potential humanitarian corridors, a prisoner swap and the reopening of the defunct Sana’a international airport.
More than three years since Saudi Arabia and its allies joined Hadi’s fight against the Houthis, Yemen is now home to what the U.N. calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 14 million people facing imminent mass starvation amid war as a frail economy crumbles.
In September, a previous round of U.N.-led peace talks faltered when the Houthis refused to travel to Geneva, accusing the world body of failing to guarantee their delegation’s return to Sanaa or secure the evacuation of wounded rebels to Oman.
Previous talks broke down in 2016, when 108 days of negotiations in Kuwait failed to yield a deal and left rebel delegates stranded in Oman for three months.
With reporting from AFP