UAE demands ‘unconditional’ Houthi withdrawal from Yemen port


DUBAI — The UAE, a key player in the coalition battling Houthi rebels in Yemen, on Monday warned the insurgents to withdraw unconditionally from the flashpoint port city of Hodeida, after UN peace efforts fizzled.

“There can be no conditions in any offers to withdraw,” the United Arab Emirates’ Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told a press conference in Dubai.

“If the rebels wanted to set conditions, they should have thought of that a year ago... Now is not the time to negotiate.”

Houthi rebels have controlled Hodeida, a key entry point for desperately-needed aid, since 2014, when they drove the government out of the capital Sanaa and seized large swathes of the country.

Gargash’s statement came hours before the UN’s top Yemen envoy, Martin Griffiths, was due to brief the Security Council on his efforts to end the crisis over Hodeida, whose port handles over 70 percent of Yemen’s imports.

Gargash said the Saudi and UAE-led offensive aimed “to help the UN envoy in his last chance to convince the Houthis to withdraw unconditionally from the city and avoid any confrontation.”

Griffiths held two days of talks with the Houthis over the weekend in Sanaa, but the militants rejected a ceasefire under current conditions.

Gargash said on Monday that his country and its allies aimed to “avoid civilian casualties”, adding that the operation was “going very well”.

Civilians deaths have not yet been confirmed in Hodeida.

Four UAE troops have died in the operation, according to state media, while medical and military sources say at least 164 mostly Houthi fighters have died.

The UAE’s Gargash said the Arab coalition had kept the Hodeida-Sanaa road “open for the Houthi militias to withdraw”.

The UAE minister denied reports that French troops had been helping the coalition to take Hodeida, but said France had offered to remove mines when it becomes necessary. — AFP