The United Nations must work faster to help break the rebel Houthis' hold on Hodeidah amid a pause in the Yemen government forces' assault to take back the key port city, its governor said.
In an exclusive interview with The National, Dr Al Hasan Taher said UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths was prolonging a series of peace talks between the internationally-recognised government and the Iran-backed Houthis.
“Martin Griffiths has been shuttling between many countries and then going back to [rebel-held] Sanaa with no breakthrough and helping the Houthis maintain their control over Hodeidah and its port," he said.
“Why has he not come to visit the thousands of civilians dying because of the Houthis’ siege on Hodeidah?”
Dr Taher reiterated that the rebels are using the city's port to smuggle in weapons provided by Tehran as well as foreign advisers to help them in their military operations.
“They have used the port to transport Iranian and Lebanese advisers to Hodeidah and Sanaa and they have brought over dozens more to help them assemble missiles and manufacture drones,” he said, adding that many of the experts were evacuated when the pro-government forces — backed by an Arab coalition — launched an offensive on Hodeidah on June 13.
The assault, however, was temporarily paused late last month to aid UN peace efforts for a political solution.
Dr Taher said the experts were training the Houthis on how to launch missiles and drones and how to plant mines.
“Land and sea mines from Iran were smuggled in the millions into the country, and we have seen the Houthis target cargo ships in the Red Sea many times,” he said.
“The Houthis will never agree to hand over control of the city and its port to the government, which is why military pressure is the only solution to force them to surrender — which they will sooner or later.”
Dr Taher said that the temporary pause was necessary to try and give the UN a chance to find a peaceful resolution. Pro-government forces insist that the Houthis withdraw completely and unconditionally from Hodeidah, while the rebels have so far only agreed to shared control with the UN.
“The Yemeni president, Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, and our brothers in the Arab coalition are keen to solve all issues in the country peacefully,” he said.
“However, if the rebels continue with their aggressive behaviour and refuse to withdraw, then this temporary pause was their only chance. We are ready for all options.”
Dr Taher said the Houthi militia continues to commit human rights violations and has increased its “war crimes practices” after feeling the pressure by the coalition, which includes Saudi Arabia and the UAE that intervened in March 2015 at the request of the legitimate government to restore its power.
"The Houthis changed Hodeidah from a vibrant city to a ghost town haunted by gunmen and their sectarian slogans," he told The National.
“Public establishments, markets, shops are almost all closed.”
The governor said that the Houthis continue to conscript children and offer civilians two options: either fight or go to prison.
"They exploit the people's need for food and aid to force them to join their ranks,” he said. “This is not acceptable.”