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UN prepares ground for Yemen peace talks as battles flare

By AFP - Nov 21,2018 - Last updated at Nov 21,2018

Yemeni supporters to the Shiite Houthi movement, attend a rally marking the birth anniversary of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad in the capital Sanaa on Tuesday (AFP photo)

SANAA — UN envoy Martin Griffiths was preparing on Tuesday to head to war-torn Yemen to lay the groundwork for peace talks in Sweden, after fresh fighting shook the flashpoint city of Hodeida.

Military officials said the battles were the worst since loyalists halted an offensive last week, and were concentrated in the eastern part of the city where rebels fired artillery.

Pro-government forces struck back, supported by warplanes from the Saudi-led coalition which launched a dozen raids, the sources said.

According to Houthi-run media, clashes lasted up to four hours and resulted in fatalities.

The city was relatively calm on Tuesday morning, according to an AFP correspondent who spoke to residents by telephone from Khokha about 100 kilometres away.

Call for truce 

 

On Monday, Britain presented to the UN Security Council a draft resolution urging an immediate truce in Hodeida, whose port serves as an entry point to nearly all imports and humanitarian aid to the impoverished country.

The draft, circulated by Britain to the 14 other council members and seen by AFP, sets a two-week deadline for the warring sides to remove all barriers to humanitarian aid.

The proposed resolution would significantly ratchet up pressure on the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis to seek a negotiated settlement in Yemen, where millions are on the brink of starvation.

It also calls for a large injection of foreign currency to support Yemen’s collapsing currency and for salaries of civil servants, teachers, and health workers to be paid within a month.

Mohammed Ali Al Houthi, head of the Houthi rebels’ Higher Revolutionary Committee and an influential political figure, Tweeted on Monday that he wanted his group to announce “readiness to suspend and halt all military operations” and stop firing missiles on Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh also lent its support to new talks.

Multiple past attempts to hold negotiations between the government alliance and Houthis have failed.

Griffiths said on Monday he hoped the rivals would meet in Sweden “within the next few weeks”. No date has yet been set.

The Houthis seized Sanaa in late 2014, when they also took control of Hodeida and its port.

A year later, Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in the war to bolster Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Both parties in the conflict stand accused of acts that could amount to war crimes.

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called on France to address laws-of-war violations with the UAE — a key member of the Saudi-led coalition — during Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s visit to Paris on November 21.

“If President [Emmanuel] Macron is truly concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he should tell the crown prince that France will stop selling weapons to the UAE if there’s a real risk of their unlawful use,” said Benedicte Jeannerod, HRW’s director for France.

Although Western governments have condemned civilian deaths in Yemen, they remain political and military backers of Saudi Arabia, which is a regional ally and spends billions of dollars on arms from the United States, Britain and France.

The World Health Organisation says nearly 10,000 people — mostly civilians — have been killed in Yemen since the Saudi intervention in March 2015, but rights groups believe the toll may be five times higher.

The World Food Programme says up to 14 million Yemenis are at risk of starvation.

On Monday, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced they would each give $250 million in aid to the war-ravaged country to support more than 10 million people.

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