Yemen talks falter as clashes erupt around Hodeida

ADEN: A Yemeni man drives his motorbike past burning tyres as protesters demonstrate against inflation and the rise of living costs in the country’s second city of Aden, which is held by forces loyal to the Saudi-backed government. — AFP

GENEVA: UN-backed talks between Yemen’s warring parties ended yesterday before properly getting off the ground, with the UN envoy acknowledging it had not been possible to convince the rebels to come to Geneva. “We didn’t manage to get… the delegation from Sanaa to come here… We just didn’t make it,” Martin Griffiths told reporters in Geneva.

He said it was “too early to say when the next round of consultations will take place.” His comments came after the Houthis, powerful armed tribes locked in a war with Yemen’s Saudi-backed government, have refused to take off from the rebel-held capital of Sanaa unless the United Nations meets a list of conditions, which includes securing a safe return from Geneva to Sanaa for their delegation. Fighting flared again on the ground on Friday with government forces attempting to close in on the rebel-held Red Sea port of Hodeida, which was supposed to be one of the main topics of discussion.

The talks had been scheduled to formally open Thursday but were put on hold, leaving Griffiths scrambling to save them. Griffiths hosted a number of meetings with the government delegation, which arrived in Geneva on Wednesday, and diplomats from countries with influence in Yemen’s bloody conflict. Griffiths said the meetings were “fruitful consultations”, insisting that “we made some good progress… (on) confidence-building measures”. A day earlier, the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Council said they were becoming “increasingly suspicious that the coalition intended to insult” the rebels.
It accused the Saudi-led alliance of planning to strand the rebel delegation in Djibouti, where their plane was to make a stop en route to Geneva. The Houthis hinted they feared a repeat of 2016, when 108 days of talks in Kuwait broke down and a rebel delegation was stranded in Oman for three months due to an air blockade, the council said in a statement on Telegram. The Saudi-led military coalition controls the country’s airspace and Sanaa international airport has been largely disused for years. The Iran-backed Houthis also demand the evacuation of their wounded fighters from Sanaa to Oman.

Saudi Arabia and its allies have meanwhile said they have already granted the Houthis clearance to fly, accusing the rebels of intransigence. Griffiths, who said earlier this week he believed the Geneva talks would offer a “flickering signal of hope” to the Yemeni people, has been up against difficult odds from the start. He is the UN’s third Yemen envoy since 2014, when Houthis overran the capital and drove Hadi’s government into exile. All previous attempts to resolve the conflict have failed. Nearly 10,000 people have been killed since Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened on behalf of the government in 2015, triggering what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Clashes erupt
Meanwhile, clashes between Yemen’s Houthi rebels and a government alliance led by the United Arab Emirates broke out near the Red Sea city of Hodeida Friday, military sources said. The violence came as United Nations-sponsored peace talks in Geneva have failed to get off the ground, with the Houthi delegation refusing to leave Yemen over alleged fears it will be blocked from returning to the capital Sanaa.

Multiple military sources reported the government alliance attempted Friday to close in on rebel-held Hodeida, a city home to impoverished Yemen’s most valuable port. The coalition, which launched an offensive on Hodeida in June, advanced some 16 kilometers along the coastal road of the Al-Durayhmi district Friday, a military source said.

The road is a key supply route for the rebels, who still hold Hodeida city. The fate of embattled Hodeida was scheduled for discussion at the Geneva conference, originally due to open Thursday but now on hold until an agreement is reached with the rebels. The Iran-aligned Houthis have demanded the UN guarantee their delegation’s safe return to Sanaa and allow the evacuation of wounded rebels from the capital to nearby Oman. The rebels seized control of Sanaa in 2014 along with the Red Sea Hodeida port.

Hodeida’s port serves as an entry point for some 70 percent of imports in a country where eight million people face imminent famine. The government and the Saudi-led coalition that backs it accuse the Houthis of receiving smuggled weapons through Hodeida and have demanded their unconditional withdrawal from the city. Government forces backed by the coalition have paused their assault on Hodeida port in what they say is a bid to give UN-led peace efforts a chance, but clashes have erupted sporadically. Nearly 10,000 people have been killed in the Yemen conflict since 2015, when the Saudi-led alliance intervened in the civil conflict between the government and rebels.- Agencies