The UN Yemen mediator is in talks with the Iran-backed Houthi movement to hand over control of Hodeidah port to the United Nations in an attempt to avert a possible assault on the city by a Saudi-led coalition, Yemeni political sources said.
Martin Griffiths arrived in the Houthi-held capital Sanaa on Saturday as coalition-backed troops moved to within 10 kilometres (6.21 miles) of the Red Sea port, long a key target in the war, according to local military officials, who said the advance had paused in the last few days.
"He (Griffiths) comes with a proposal for the Houthis to place Hodeidah port under UN supervision," said a senior Yemeni politician close to the internationally recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is in exile.
A source close to the Houthi movement confirmed that the proposal was being discussed as did a second source close to Mr Hadi's government.
International aid agencies have warned that a major battle for Hodeidah, with a 400,000 population, could lead to a bloodbath and shut down a port that handles most of Yemen's commercial imports and critically-needed aid supplies.
Mark Lowcock, UN emergency relief coordinator, said on Monday that the United Nations was in touch with several UN member states about Hodeidah.
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The Arab coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and of which the UAE is a member, is battling to return areas captured by the Houthi rebels to the Yemeni government.
The coalition is just miles from the centre of the city but the Iran-backed rebels have dug in, waging guerrilla attacks against coalition forces. Losing Hodeidah would deal a serious strategic blow to the rebels.
Last week, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said that victory over the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen was “close”.
Meanwhile, unidentified forces attacked a UN aid vessel off the main Yemeni port of Hodeidah at the weekend and started a fire in the engine room, port authorities said on Monday.
The United Nations aid chief, Mr Lowcock, confirmed there had been an incident but said it was now over and all were safe, without elaborating.
The vessel used by the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP) was attacked after delivering a shipment at Hodeidah, Yemen's Red Sea Ports Corporation said.