Military ‘offensive still open if Houthis reject Hodeida pullout’
Militias turn down Yemen government’s proposal to reopen Sanaa airport
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 Yemen government accuses the Houthis of arms smuggling through Hodeida.