Yemen’s Houthis indicate willingness to hand over port to UN — sources

An armored vehicle of the pro-government forces drives down a main road in the Hodeidah province, 50 kilometers from the port city of Hodeidah, which the Iran-backed Houthi insurgents seized in 2014. (File photo: AFP)
Updated 22 June 2018
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Yemen’s Houthis indicate willingness to hand over port to UN — sources

  • Saudi Arabia and the UAE have pledged a swift military operation without entering the city center
  • Hodeidah port is a principal entry point for relief supplies for Yemen

WASHINGTON: Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis have indicated they would be willing to hand over management of Hodeidah port to the United Nations, a potential breakthrough in a conflict that has caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, sources familiar with the efforts said.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have pledged a swift military operation to take over the airport and seaport without entering the city center, to minimize civilian casualties and maintain the flow of essential goods.
Hodeidah port is a principal entry point for relief supplies for Yemen. UN officials have warned that large-scale fighting in the city could threaten tens of thousands.
UN envoy Martin Griffiths has been in the Houthi-controlled Yemeni capital, Sanaa, and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, this week to try to negotiate a solution.
Deputy US Secretary of State John Sullivan and the head of the US Agency for International Development, Mark Green, met on Thursday with international and non-governmental agencies to discuss the port conflict, the State Department said.
At the meeting, Sullivan endorsed “Griffiths’ efforts to avoid an escalation in fighting by brokering a compromise over the management of the port” and underscored the US commitment to a political solution, the department said in a statement.
A diplomatic source at the United Nations said the coalition had informed Griffiths it would study the proposal.
The source said the Houthis indicated they would accept overall UN rule for port management and inspections.
A Western diplomat said the United Nations would oversee income from the port and make sure it gets to Yemen’s central bank. The understanding is for Yemeni state employees to remain working alongside the United Nations.
The sources cautioned that the plan still needed agreement from all sides to the conflict, and would not, at least in its initial stages, result in an immediate cease-fire.
In a statement on Thursday, Griffiths said he was “encouraged by the constructive engagement” of the Houthis and would be holding meetings with Yemen’s internationally backed president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.
There was no immediate comment from the Saudi and Emirati embassies in Washington. Houthi representatives could not be reached for immediate comment.
DILEMMA FOR WASHINGTON
Questions remain over the withdrawal of the Houthis from Hodeidah city itself, as the Emirates and their Yemeni allies have demanded, as well as over a broader cease-fire, the Western diplomat said.
Securing an agreement on leaving the city could be “one of the major sticking points,” the Western diplomat said.
Speaking earlier at the United Nations, Saudi Arabia’s UN ambassador, Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, reiterated the coalition’s demand that the Houthis quit the city entirely, while citing Griffiths’ slow progress.
“On the ground, what we are offering is for the Houthis to hand over their weapons to the government of Yemen and to leave, to leave peacefully and to provide information about the locations of the mines and improvised explosive devices and so forth,” Mouallimi said.


Russian-backed air strikes hit Daesh in southern Syria — sources

Updated 35 min 27 sec ago
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Russian-backed air strikes hit Daesh in southern Syria — sources

  • Daesh-affiliated forces entrenched in the Yarmouk Basin
  • The agricultural area has become the main battleground in the sensitive border region

AMMAN: Russian and Syrian jets stepped up their bombing of a Daesh bastion along the Jordan-Israel border in southwestern Syria, as the militants pushed into areas abandoned by other rebel groups, diplomatic and opposition sources said.
Daesh-affiliated forces entrenched in the Yarmouk Basin, which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Jordan, also repelled a ground attack by the Syrian army and its allies, the sources added.
The agricultural area has become the main battleground in the sensitive border region after a major Russian-backed Syrian army offensive routed other rebel groups who were once backed by Washington, Jordan and Gulf states.
An intelligence source told Reuters 1,000-1,500 Daesh fighters had been holding their ground despite the 10-day-old bombing campaign that he said had hit villages and caused “untold number” of civilian casualties
A former resident in touch with relatives said thousands of civilians whose villages have been bombed have fled to the safety of areas either held by the army or rebels.
Another source familiar with the situation said Daesh had actually been able to expand its territory over the last 20 hours by seizing at least 18 villages abandoned by other rebels under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Daesh was taking advantage of the collapse of its ideological FSA rivals which it views as apostates, the source said.
The United States once armed the southern FSA rebels, but told them at the start of the Russian-Syrian offensive not to expect its intervention. While cutting other aid to the rebels, Washington had continued to provide those fighting Islamic State with weapons, the source added.
The Syrian army said its aerial strikes and shelling of militants in the Yarmouk Basin — the only territorial pocket held by the hard-line Sunni fundamentalists in the country’s southwest — had killed “tens of terrorists” in a campaign whose goal it said was to crush militants.
The army and its allies have been pushing to expand their foothold near the Golan frontier by negotiating surrender deals with rebel groups and allowing them to move to opposition-held areas in northern Syria.