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Hodeidah offensive paused as Houthis talk withdrawal

UN envoy Martin Griffiths hoping to convince the rebels to pull back before fighting engulfs the key Yemeni port city
A Yemeni fighter from the "Giants" Brigades, loyal to the Saudi-backed government, during the offensive to seize the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah. (AFP)

The United Arab Emirates said on Sunday it has paused the UAE-backed offensive on Yemen's main port city of Hodeidah because of UN-brokered talks for Houthi rebels to withdraw. 

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash warned in a series of tweets that the offensive could resume if the talks failed. 

"It remains to be seen, however, whether the Houthis are engaging seriously with this process or using it as a tactic to buy time. They have declared that they intend to recapture the whole of Yemen, in defiance of the United Nations," Gargash tweeted.

"Failing these patient efforts we believe that continued military pressure will ultimately bring the liberation of Hodeida & force the Houthis to engage seriously in negotiations."

He said the offensive had been paused since 23 June as pro-government forces awaited the result of the talks led by United Nations Special Envoy Martin Griffiths.

Griffiths met with Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi on Wednesday and is now reportedly requesting the Houthis withdraw from Hodeidah, handing it over to the UN. 

The rebels have held the key city since 2014. They have said they may be willing to share control of Hodeidah's port with the United Nations but insist their forces must remain in the docks and the rest of the Red Sea city.

Pro-Yemeni government coalition forces took Hodeidah's airport from Houthi control in June and residents told Middle East Eye the rebels have been preparing for battles in the city since then. 

More than 30,000 residents of Hodeidah city and the wider province have fled since the start of the offensive, which has raised concerns because of the role the city has played as a humanitarian lifeline during the war. 

Some 70 percent of imports to Yemen, where eight million people face imminent famine, flow through the port of Hodeidah.

The United Nations has called Yemen the world's largest humanitarian crisis.

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