Yemen forces hold off on battle for Hodeida port for now: foreign minister

UNITED NATIONS: Yemen's government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition are holding off, for now, on advancing on the rebel-held port of Hodeida, Yemen's foreign minister said Thursday.

The United Nations has warned that an attack on Hodeida port could cripple deliveries of commercial goods and humanitarian aid to millions of people in Yemen who are on the brink of famine.

“We are not coming close to the seaport,” Khaled Alyemany told reporters during a press conference at the UN mission of the United Arab Emirates.

“We are in an area close to the airport, but not to the seaport. The seaport is totally out of operations, today,” he insisted.

The foreign minister spoke after the UN Security Council called for the port to be kept open to deliveries of vital food and humanitarian supplies following the launch of the coalition offensive to seize the city.

“We are not planning to destroy the infrastructure,” Alyemany added.

The Red Sea port, controlled by the Iran-backed Huthis, serves as the entry point for 70% of the impoverished country's imports, but the coalition maintains that the rebels use it to smuggle weapons.

Saudi Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi said the coalition is taking precautions to ensure the port's operations are not disrupted but warned that the Huthi rebels could “blow up part of the port” during a retreat.

More than 22 million people in Yemen are in need of aid, including 8.4 million who are at risk of starvation, according to the United Nations, which considers Yemen to be the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

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UAE Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh insisted that coalition forces were “moving in a measured, slow way and assessing impact as we go” and that the Huthis will be given safe passage to the north if they withdraw from Hodeida.

Sweden, a non-permanent Security Council member, urged the top UN body to demand a freeze on the military operations but that appeal was brushed aside during a closed-door meeting.

On Monday, the Security Council said it supported UN envoy Martin Griffiths, who is leading diplomatic efforts to convince the Huthi rebels to hand over control of the port.

The council did not call on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, whose troops are backing Yemeni forces, to refrain from attacking Hodeida. — AFP

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