Houthis re­buff de­mand for Hodei­dah with­drawal

First Yemeni peace talks in two years un­der way; US me­di­a­tor seek­ing con­fi­dence-build­ing steps

Gulf Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Ye­men’s Houthi rebels will not hand over the key port of Hodei­dah to the ri­val gov­ern­ment, a rebel rep­re­sen­ta­tive said yes­ter­day, as the two par­ties met for UN-bro­kered talks in Swe­den. “This is not on the ta­ble,” Ab­dul­ma­lik al-Ajri, a mem­ber of the rebel del­e­ga­tion said af­ter the Yemeni gov­ern­ment said it was seek­ing a full Houthi with­drawal from the flash­point port city. Houthis con­trol the Red Sea city of Hodei­dah, a con­duit for 90% of food im­ports.

Ye­men’s Saudi-backed gov­ern­ment has pro­posed re­open­ing the Houthi-held air­port in the cap­i­tal Sanaa on con­di­tion planes are in­spected in the air­ports of Aden or Sayun which are un­der its con­trol, two gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials said yes­ter­day.

The Houthis re­jected the pro­posal floated at UN-spon­sored peace talks in Swe­den that are aimed at ce­ment­ing con­fi­dence-build­ing mea­sures that could lead to a cease­fire to halt air strikes by a Saudi-led coali­tion and Houthi mis­sile at­tacks on Saudi cities.

But given this is only the se­cond day of the talks due to last un­til Dec 13, and with both sides are com­ing un­der mount­ing pres­sure for ac­tion be­cause of the hu­man toll of the war, there could be room for con­ces­sions.

The war has killed tens of thou­sands of peo­ple and spawned what the United Na­tions calls the world’s direst hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis, since the coali­tion in­ter­vened in 2015 to re­store a gov­ern­ment ousted by the Houthi move­ment.

The war­ring sides agreed on Thurs­day to free thou­sands of pris­on­ers, in what UN me­di­a­tor Martin Grif­fiths called a hope­ful start to the first peace talks in two years to end a war that has pushed mil­lions of peo­ple to the verge of star­va­tion.

Grif­fiths wants a deal on re­open­ing the air­port, shoring up the cen­tral bank and se­cur­ing a truce in Hodei­dah, the coun­try’s main port, held by the Houthis and a fo­cus of the war af­ter the coali­tion launched a cam­paign to cap­ture it this year.

Sanaa air­port, which has been bombed sev­eral times, is in Houthi ter­ri­tory but ac­cess is re­stricted by the Saudi-led coali­tion, which con­trols the air space.

Mar­wan Dam­maj, Ye­men’s min­is­ter of cul­ture in the in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Abd-Rabbu Man­sour Hadi, told Reuters Sanaa air­port should be re­opened to put “an end to the peo­ple’s suf­fer­ing re­gard­ing trans­porta­tion”.

“But it should be a do­mes­tic air­port from where Ye­me­nis can go to Aden and then leave to in­ter­na­tional des­ti­na­tions,” added Dam­maj, a mem­ber of the gov­ern­ment del­e­ga­tion.

Hamza al-Ka­mali, an­other mem­ber of the del­e­ga­tion, said air­planes must stop in air­ports in the south­ern city of Aden or Sayun, east of the cap­i­tal, for in­spec­tion be­fore leav­ing Ye­men.

The Houthi del­e­ga­tion head at the peace talks, Mo­hamed Ab­dusalam, re­jected the pro­posal. “The air­port should be opened in ac­cor­dance to in­ter­na­tional stan­dards, and we do not ac­cept in­spec­tions,” Ab­dusalam told Al Jazeera tele­vi­sion.

A UN source de­clined to com­ment.

The United Na­tions is also try­ing to avert a full-scale as­sault on Hodei­dah, the en­try point for most of Ye­men’s com­mer­cial goods and aid.

Both sides have re­in­forced po­si­tions in the Red Sea city in spo­radic bat­tles af­ter a de-es­ca­la­tion last month.

Ye­men’s gov­ern­ment is stick­ing to its po­si­tion that Hodei­dah should be un­der its con­trol, said Ka­mali. “We say that the city should be con­trolled by a po­lice force from Hodei­dah’s sons and not the Houthis.

We can­not le­git­imise the pres­ence of the Houthi in Hodei­dah.”

Ab­dusalam said the port of Hodei­dah must be kept apart from the mil­i­tary con­flict, and that a gov­ern­ment should be formed first be­fore all par­ties are dis­armed.

The war, widely seen across the re­gion as a proxy con­flict be­tween Saudi Ara­bia and Iran, has been in stale­mate for years, threat­en­ing sup­ply lines to feed nearly 30mn in­hab­i­tants.

The Houthis con­trol Sanaa and the other most pop­u­lated ar­eas, while the ousted gov­ern­ment based in the south­ern city of Aden has strug­gled to ad­vance de­spite the aid of Arab states.

No peace talks have been held since 2016, and the last at­tempt in Geneva in Septem­ber failed when the Houthis did not at­tend.

The hu­man­i­tar­ian suf­fer­ing in one of the poor­est coun­tries has added to pres­sure on the par­ties to end the con­flict, with faith in the Saudi-led war ef­fort flag­ging among West­ern al­lies that arm and sup­port the coali­tion. Out­rage over the Oct 2 mur­der of Saudi jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi at the king­dom’s Is­tan­bul con­sulate has also un­der­mined West­ern sup­port for Riyadh’s re­gional ac­tiv­i­ties.

Mar­wan Dam­maj, Ye­men’s Min­is­ter of Cul­ture, speaks to me­dia dur­ing the peace talks on Ye­men held at Jo­han­nes­berg Cas­tle, in Rimbo, Swe­den yes­ter­day.

Jour­nal­ists re­port from the peace talks on Ye­men held at Jo­han­nes­berg Cas­tle, in Rimbo, Swe­den.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Qatar

© PressReader. All rights reserved.