On eve of Hodeidah visit, UN envoy urges Houthi leader to agree to peace talks
The United Nations envoy to Yemen has urged the country's Houthi rebel leader to agree to attend peace negotiations next month in Sweden, ahead of a visit to the war-torn port city of Hodeidah.
Martin Griffiths, who arrived in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, on Wednesday, is pushing for negotiations early next month in Sweden to help end years of conflict that have left millions of Yemenis on the verge of famine.
The diplomat's planned visit to Hodeidah on Friday is aimed at encouraging Houthi rebels and government forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition to keep a lid on fighting in the city ahead of the talks in Stockholm, a UN source told AFP news agency.
Griffiths met Houthi rebel chief Abdulmalik al-Houthi on Thursday and they addressed "what can facilitate new discussions in December," Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdelsalam said on Twitter, AFP reported.
Abdelsalam said that included "procedures needed to transport injured and sick for treatment abroad and bring them back," a key sticking point during a previous failed attempt to hold talks in September.
Those planned negotiations fell through after the Houthis didn't show up amid concerns they would not be granted safe passage to the meeting.
Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, head of the group's Higher Revolutionary Committee, said the Houthis were ready for peace.
"We support peace. We are ready for peace if that is what they (the Saudi-led coalition) want," he said after also meeting Griffiths, AFP reported.
UN calls for more permanent end to fighting
Saudi Arabia launched a military offensive in Yemen in 2015 after the Houthis overran the capital and ousted the government of Hadi's government. The country has been pushed into a devastating humanitarian crisis as a result of the three-year war, and diseases and malnutrition are widespread.
The UN recently launched a heightened push to end the fighting between Yemen's warring parties - and reach a ceasefire in Hodeidah, in particular. The city is a critical gateway for humanitarian aid entering the country.
UN agencies say as many as 14 million Yemenis are at risk of starvation if the fighting in Hodeidah does not end.
Earlier this week, the United States defence secretary announced that peace talks to end the conflict in Yemen would take place next month.
Jim Mattis said on Wednesday that negotiations between the Houthis and Yemen's UN-recognised government, led by Hadi, would take place in Sweden "very early in December".
Humanitarian organisations are hoping the current peace push will translate into a more permanent halt to the bloodshed.
The heads of the UN's humanitarian and children's agencies said the "recent de-escalation in fighting in Hodeidah is providing a desperately needed respite to hundreds of thousands of civilians".
"We urge all parties to maintain it," reads a statement by Mark Lowcock and Henrietta Fore.
"At the same time, we remain deeply concerned for the safety and protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure. Hostilities over the last several weeks in Hodeidah have taken a steep toll, including on health facilities directly damaged in crossfire or occupied by armed groups," they said.