HODEIDAH: Armored vehicles of the Yemeni pro-government forces are seen driving past destruction in an industrial district in the eastern outskirts of the port city of Hodeida. —AFP
SANAA: A high-ranking Yemeni rebel official urged his leadership yesterday to freeze military operations and stop firing missiles into Saudi Arabia as the UN prepares for peace talks. Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, head of the Houthi insurgents’ Higher Revolutionary Committee and an influential political figure, tweeted that he also wants his group to announce “readiness to suspend and halt all military operations”. He called on “all (Houthi) official Yemeni sides to issue directives to end launching missiles and drones against aggression countries… in order to deprive them from any reason to continue their aggression and siege.”
The rebels should be ready “to freeze and stop all military operations on all fronts” to achieve “a just and honorable peace,” he added. His comments came as UN special envoy Martin Griffiths is expected to visit the Yemeni capital of Sanaa this week to finalize arrangements for peace talks in Sweden. Houthi rebels have controlled the capital Sanaa since capturing it in late 2014. They have since fired hundreds of ballistic missiles into neighboring Saudi Arabia, which since 2015 has led a regional military coalition aiming to restore to power the government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
Although Mohammed Ali al-Huthi is head of the Iran-linked rebels’ Higher Revolutionary Committee, he is not their ultimate decision-maker — that power lies with supreme leader Abdulmalek Al-Houthi. Griffiths – whose efforts at kick-starting peace talks collapsed in September – said both the Saudi-backed government and the Houthi rebels have shown a “renewed commitment” to work on a political solution. He said both sides have given “firm assurances” that they would attend the talks, although no date has yet been set. Multiple attempts to hold negotiations between the government alliance and Huthis have failed, most recently in September, when the rebels refused to fly to Geneva for planned UN-hosted negotiations.
But Griffiths on Friday offered to travel with the Houthi delegation to Sweden “if that’s what is needed.” The rebels, whose delegates were trapped in Oman for three months after a previous round of talks collapsed in 2016, had accused the world body of failing to guarantee their delegation’s return to Sanaa or secure the evacuation of wounded fighters. Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi said his call for an end to missile and drone attacks was aimed at “supporting the efforts of the (UN) envoy and proving our good intentions”, adding that it follows “our contact with the UN envoy and his request to stop launching missiles and drones”.
‘Stop the bloodshed’
The Houthis’ foreign minister, Hisham Sharaf Abdallah, met UN officials on Sunday evening, according to the rebels’ Saba news agency. It quoted him as saying that the UN and the international community should “adopt the political path to stop the bloodshed and protect Yemenis’ properties from destruction”. Britain is set to present a draft resolution to the UN Security Council yesterday to address the crisis in Yemen, its ambassador said Friday.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt meanwhile arrived yesterday in Iran for the first time, with his agenda including talks with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif on the country’s role in Yemen. Iran backs the Shiite rebels against Saudi Arabia. Fighting in Yemen intensified at the beginning of this month as the coalition renewed an offensive aimed at seizing Hodeida, a Red Sea city whose port serves as entry point for nearly all of the country’s imports and humanitarian aid. But pro-government forces announced a pause in their offensive on last week as international pressure grew for a ceasefire amid fears that millions of Yemenis are now facing famine.
An AFP correspondent in the city said yesterday that the city remained calm, although the rebel-run al-Masira news network said the coalition had carried out seven airstrikes in the surrounding province and one inside Hodeida city. The rebels also reported fresh clashes in a battle front near Sanaa yesterday, Al-Masira said. The World Health Organization says nearly 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen since the Saudi intervention in March 2015, but rights groups believe the toll may be five times as high. The war in Yemen has left the country on the edge of mass starvation and sparked what the UN has labeled the world’s worst humanitarian crisis._ AFP