Yemeni President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi has rejected an offer that would have placed the Red Sea port of Hodeidah under UN supervision and allowed the Iran-backed Houthi rebels to remain there, according to reports.
Martin Griffiths, the United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, met Mr Hadi on Wednesday as he scrambled to avert an all-out assault on city and its port, the country’s second-largest.
In his first trip to the southern city of Aden, Mr Griffiths reportedly presented an offer to the Yemeni leader from the Houthi leadership to hand the port over to UN control. The offer would have allowed the rebel group to retain a physical presence at the port. The UN has not confirmed the offer.
But the Yemeni leader “completely rejected” the premise of an armed Houthi presence remaining in the port, according to Sky News Arabia.
Echoing a demand repeatedly made by the Arab Coalition, the Yemeni leader “insisted on the need for the Houthis to withdraw completely and without conditions from Hodeidah, or face a military solution,” a Yemeni government source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
A statement released by the Yemeni Ministry of Foreign Affairs after the meeting stressed that “the management and security of the port of Hodeidah cannot be realised without securing the city itself”.
Mr Griffiths said he appreciated Mr Hadi’s “constant efforts towards peace”. He highlighted upcoming meetings regarding the peace process to be held in Muscat and Sanaa.
The Houthis have controlled the western city of Hodeidah, and its port, since 2014, when they drove the Hadi government out of the capital and seized large swathes of northern Yemen. The port is the entry point for some 70 per cent of Yemen’s food.
On June 13, the UAE and its allies, including Saudi Arabia, launched a massive military operation – dubbed "Golden Victory" – to drive the rebels out of the Hodeidah port. A coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE intervened in the civil war in 2015 at the request of Mr Hadi’s internationally recognised government.
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash said that the Houthis had been given plenty of opportunities to negotiate, but had continued to threaten civilians in Hodeidah.
“Houthis not treated like any other terrorist militia and have dialogue with UN and opportunity to negotiate political process. Yet in threatening civilians behave like any other terrorist organisation. International community must hold them to account,” he tweeted.
Dr Gargash added that Coalition-backed forces were attempting to ready the airport to receive humanitarian aid.
“We want #Hodeidah airport secure so we can begin humanitarian airlifts of food and medicine; Houthi snipers and machine guns, shooting from civilian areas, hold us back. Houthis planting sea mines, endangering aid delivery,” he said on Twitter.
Last week, Mr Griffiths, who only assumed the role of UN envoy to Yemen in March, visited Sanaa where he held talks with the Houthi leadership. On Tuesday, he met with EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.
Aid organisations have warned of a humanitarian catastrophe if the flow of goods through the port is blocked. Coalition officials insist that recapturing the port will force the rebels to the negotiating table.