Mil­i­tary ‘of­fen­sive still open if Houthis re­ject Hodeida pull­out’

Mili­tias turn down Ye­men gov­ern­ment’s pro­posal to re­open Sanaa air­port

Arab News - - Front Page - Stock­holm AFP File/AFP

A gov­ern­ment of­fen­sive on Ye­men’s Hodeida re­mains an op­tion if Houthi mili­tias refuse to with­draw from the port city, a minister said on Fri­day, as the ne­go­tia­tors met for UNbro­kered talks.

“We are now in ne­go­ti­a­tions in re­sponse to calls by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, the UN and the UN en­voy. We are still look­ing into means to­ward peace,” said Agri­cul­ture Minister Oth­man AlMu­jalli.

“But if they (the Houthis) are not re­spon­sive, we have many op­tions, in­clud­ing that of mil­i­tary de­ci­sive­ness,” he told re­porters in re­sponse to a ques­tion on the Houthi- oc­cu­pied city. “And we are ready.”

Talks be­tween Ye­men’s gov­ern- ment and Houthis, linked to Iran, opened on Thurs­day in Swe­den.

While the days lead­ing up to the gath­er­ing saw the gov­ern­ment and Houthis agree­ing on a pris­oner swap deal and the evac­u­a­tion of wounded in­sur­gents for med­i­cal treat­ment in Oman, both par­ties traded threats as the talks be­gan. The two sides have not yet met face-to-face.

Talks are ex­pected to fo­cus the fate of Hodeida, a city on Ye­men’s west­ern coast­line that houses the coun­try’s most valu­able port.

The gov­ern­ment ac­cuses the Houthis of arms smug­gling through Hodeida — also a con­duit for 90 per­cent of food im­ports — and has de­manded the mili­tias with­draw from the port.

Al-Mu­jalli said the gov­ern­ment was not open to ne­go­ti­a­tions on control of the port. The UN, he said, could play a “su­per­vi­sory” role, but he re­jected the idea of plac­ing man­age­ment of the port in the hands of a third party.

UN Ye­men en­voy Martin Grif­fiths urged both par­ties to spare Hodeida.

“It’s the hu­man­i­tar­ian pipe­line to the rest of the coun­try,” he said.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions also cover a pris­oner swap be­tween the two sides and the po­ten­tial re­open­ing of Sanaa air­port, lo­cated in the Houthioc­cu­pied cap­i­tal and largely shut down for three years.

The gov­ern­ment is de­mand­ing planes be searched in one of two gov­ern­ment- con­trolled ar­eas — Aden or Say­oun — en route to or from Sanaa.

“We are keen on the open­ing of Sanaa air­port, and we de­mand the open­ing of Sanaa air­port and we know that the Ye­meni cit­i­zen should have the right to reach any coun­try in the world through Sanaa air­port,” said Ab­du­laziz Jabari, a pres­i­den­tial ad­viser and mem­ber of a Ye­meni gov­ern­ment del­e­ga­tion at the talks.

“But... we are look­ing into who will su­per­vise Sanaa air­port,” Jabari said, adding that the air­port could serve as a hub for do­mes­tic flights.

But Houthis on Fri­day turned down the gov­ern­ment de­mand.”Sanaa air­port is an in­ter­na­tional air­port,” said Houthi rep­re­sen­ta­tive Ab­dul­ma­lik Al-Ajri.

The gov­ern­ment says an of­fen­sive on Hodeida re­mains an op­tion if Houthis refuse to with­draw from the port city.

The Ye­men gov­ern­ment ac­cuses the Houthis of arms smug­gling through Hodeida.

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