New UN envoy visits Sanaa in first official trip to Yemen

Martin Grifffiths holds talks with Houthi leaders in rebel-held capital

The United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths speaks to the press upon his arrival at Sanaa international airport on March 24, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS
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The UN's new envoy for Yemen held talks with Houthi rebel leaders in Sanaa as he made his first official visit to the country in an attempt to end a bitter war that is entering its fourth year.

Martin Griffiths "will be meeting with a broad range of stakeholders to discuss restoring peace and stability in Yemen", according to the UN envoy's official Twitter account.

The former British diplomat met President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi and other members of the internationally recognised government in the Saudi capital Riyadh on March 20, a day after taking up his post.

Saudi Arabia leads a military coalition that intervened in the war on March 25, 2015 to support Mr Hadi's government against the Iran-backed rebels.

The former British diplomat was also planning to visit Aden, the temporary capital after the Houthis seized Sanaa in 2014, according to a government source in the southern port city.

Previous UN-led efforts to end the war have failed, with the last round of talks collapsing in August 2016. The conflict has claimed more than 10,000 lives, according to a UN tally, and left millions of Yemenis dependent on humanitarian supplies of aid and medicine.

The Saudi-led coalition, which includes the UAE, accuses Iran of providing weapons and logistical support to the rebels as part of Tehran's policy of interference in regional affairs.

The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash said on Friday that statements given in an interview by Houthi leader Abdulmalik Al Houthi confirmed Iran's hand in the uprising.

"The interview of Abdulmalik Al Houthi in Al Akhbar the Lebanese newspaper today confirms the regional dimensions of the project of this militia, the challenge exceeds the borders of Yemen and supports the Iranian axis in the region," Dr Gargash tweeted.

"The Al Hazem decision was definitely a deterrent procedure," he wrote, referring to the Operation Decisive Storm launched by the coalition in March 2015 to counter the Houthis.

Iran denies accusations of arming the Houthis but the claims have been supported by investigations by the UN and the United States, including the Iranian origin of missiles fired at the Saudi capital Riyadh by the rebels last year.

In the interview published on Friday, the Houthi leader said: Our missiles can now reach the heart of enemy areas. They have reached Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Above all, they have penetrated the US-made air defence systems which they heavily depend on."

While all rebel missiles fired into Saudi Arabia have been shot down, none have been fired at the UAE.

Meanwhile, Yemen government forces backed by the coalition continue to make gains against the rebels.

On Friday, Yemeni government forces cut off a vital rebel supply route in the county's south after seizing two mountains between Lahj and Taez provinces.

Troops and fighters of the Popular Resistance militia captured Al Hashama and Al Santral mountains to the north of the Karesh front, which overlook the Shouraiga area used by the rebels as a supply route, said Lt Mohamed Al Naqeeb, spokesman of the army's 4th military zone.

"The army troops cut the supply route in Al Shouraiga area as they controlled Al Santral mountain which is considered a big loss for the Houthis because they are using that route to push supplies and reinforcements to their fighters in Taez," Lt Al Naqeeb told The National on Saturday.

"More than 20 Houthi fighters were killed and four were arrested by the army during fierce fighting on the Karesh front yesterday. The army seized a big amount of light and heavy weaponry in addition to lots of ammunition."

Maj Gen Fadel Hassan, commander of the 4th military zone, told Saba news agency on Saturday that troops backed by the Arab coalition would continue the offensive as part of the battle to liberate Taez province.

Meanwhile, a woman was killed and a soldier injured in an explosion in Dar Saed district of Aden on Friday, a resident of the area said.

Moneer Mohammed said the blast appeared to be caused by a bomb planted near a military vehicle stationed at the Al Karaa roundabout in Dar Saed.