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Head of UN team in Yemen's Hodeidah safe after car in convoy shot

Both the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition accuse one another of opening fire on the convoy of retired Dutch general Patrick Cammaert
Patrick Cammaert arrived in the Red Sea port city on 22 December to head the committee overseeing implementation of a ceasefire and troop withdrawal deal (AFP)

The head of a UN mission tasked with overseeing a peace deal in Yemen's Hodeidah port city is safe after an armoured car in his convoy was hit by a bullet, the United Nations has said.

Both the rebel Houthis who controls Hodeidah, and the Saudi-led coalition that has massed troops on its outskirts, accused one another of opening fire on the convoy of retired Dutch general Patrick Cammaert.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Cammaert and his team were leaving a meeting with representatives of the government of Yemen on Thursday when the incident occurred.

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"As they were leaving one UN marked armoured vehicle sustained one round of small arms fire," Dujarric told reporters in New York.

"The team returned to base without further incident. We do not have information as to the source of the fire."

He said Cammaert appealed for calm and a strengthening of the ceasefire in Hodeidah by the warring parties.

"All the parties in Yemen are responsible for the safety of all UN personnel," Dujarric said.

A Yemeni source in the Saudi-led coalition told the Reuters news agency that the convoy was visiting an area under its control when Houthi fighters opened fire.

A statement from a Houthi official said coalition-backed forces in the eastern suburbs, a flashpoint area, had fired on the convoy.

Monitors approved

Cammaert arrived in the Red Sea port city on 22 December to head the committee overseeing implementation of a ceasefire and troop withdrawal deal reached at peace talks last month in Sweden between the Houthis and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government.

The ceasefire has largely held but sporadic skirmishes have flared, with the UN struggling to implement the withdrawal of forces from both sides.

The truce has averted a full-scale assault on Hodeidah, the entry point for the bulk of Yemen's commercial imports and vital aid supplies.

The port is a lifeline for millions of Yemenis facing severe hunger in the poorest Arabian Peninsula country.

The UN Security Council approved on Wednesday the deployment of up to 75 observers to Hodeidah for six months to monitor implementation of the deal, which was the first significant breakthrough in peace efforts in five years.

The coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, intervened in the war in 2015 against the Houthis to restore the internationally recognised government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, which was ousted from the capital Sanaa in 2014.

The Houthis, who say their revolution is against corruption, control most urban centres while Hadi's government is based in the southern port city of Aden.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths has said that substantial progress was needed in Hodeidah before more talks can be held on ending the war that has killed tens of thousands of people.

US trained UAE forces for combat

Western allies, some of which supply arms and intelligence to the coalition, have pressed for an end to the conflict that is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which supports the Houthis.

Newly obtained documents revealed on Wednesday that the United States, despite past denials, was involved in training UAE pilots for combat in Yemen, where the UAE is fighting as part of a Saudi-led coalition, Yahoo News reported.

The US Air Forces Central Command documents specifically state that units at the US's Air Warfare Center in Al Dhafra, about 30km south of the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, "advanced the UAE's F-16 pilot training program," Yahoo News reported late on Wednesday.

Those trainees were then "immediately deployed for combat operations in Yemen" between 1 January 2016 and 31 December 2017, the news outlet said.

Yahoo News said it obtained the documents through the Freedom of Information Act.

Appearing to deny the report, a US Central Command spokesperson, as well as a second Centcom official, told Yahoo News that the US does not "conduct exercises with members of the [Saudi-led coalition] to prepare for combat operations in Yemen".