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Renewed fighting breaks out in Yemen's Hodeidah amid UN push for peace talks

Saudi-led coalition conducts more than 10 air strikes on Houthi positions in key Yemeni port city, as Britain presents UN resolution calling for truce
Yemeni pro-government forces drive by an industrial district on the outskirts of Hodeidah (AFP/File photo)

Intense fighting has broken out in Yemen's port city of Hodeidah, shattering a lull in violence that had raised hopes for a ceasefire between a Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebel fighters.

Coalition warplanes conducted more than 10 air strikes on Houthi positions late on Monday as battles could be heard in the city's "July 7" district, four kilometres from the port, residents told Reuters news agency.

The renewed fighting was the worst since forces loyal to Yemen's Saudi-backed government halted an offensive on the Houthi-held port city last week amid pressure from the United Nations and Western countries to end the devastating conflict.

"The fighting is escalating and we can clearly hear machine guns and mortar fire. This is one of the worst nights we have experienced," Hodeidah resident Mustafa Abdo told Reuters.

The clashes late on Monday were concentrated in the eastern part of Hodeidah, from which Houthi rebels fired artillery, sources loyal to the Saudi-backed government said.

A Saudi-led coalition launched a military offensive in Yemen in 2015 as part of a push to root out the Houthis, who had taken over the capital, Sanaa.

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Earlier on Monday, the Houthis announced a halt to drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their Yemeni allies, in one of its biggest concessions since the rebels left the southern Yemeni port city of Aden in 2015.

The Houthis also said they were ready for a broader ceasefire if the Saudi-led coalition "wants peace".

Later in the day, however, Yemeni Information Minister Moammar al-Eryani, who is aligned with the Saudi coalition, said the Houthis had "fired a missile towards Saudi lands," adding on Twitter that the missile failed to reach its target and landed inside Yemen.

Houthi leaders could not immediately be reached for comment on the report.

It was not immediately clear whether the renewed fighting in Hodeidah would derail efforts by UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths to salvage peace talks between both sides. Those negotiations collapsed in September when the Houthi delegation failed to show up.

UK presents draft resolution to UN Security Council

When asked about the renewed fighting, a Yemeni military source aligned with the Saudi-led coalition told Reuters late on Monday that a ceasefire would only take hold in Hodeidah if the UN Security Council passes a British resolution on Yemen.

The UK presented a draft resolution to the Security Council on Monday that calls for an immediate truce in Hodeidah and sets a two-week deadline for the warring sides to remove all barriers to humanitarian aid.

The draft resolution, which was seen by the AFP news agency, urges the parties to end hostilities in Hodeidah as well as "to end all attacks on densely populated civilian areas across Yemen and to cease all missile and UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle or drone) attacks against regional countries and maritime areas".

The resolution also calls for an unhindered flow of commercial and humanitarian goods across the impoverished country, including a large, fast injection of foreign currency into the economy through the Central Bank of Yemen and more funding for much-needed aid, Reuters reported.

File photo of Houthi fighters (AFP)

It is not immediately clear when the text could be put to a vote, however.

Kuwait's UN ambassador, Mansour al-Otaibi, told reporters he would propose amendments to the draft resolution as the Gulf country was unhappy with "many things" included in the text. He also said some UNSC members didn't think it was the right time for a resolution.

Western countries, including the United States, have also called for a ceasefire in Yemen amid growing international efforts to end the nearly four-year war.

More than 56,000 people have been killed in Yemen as a direct result of the fighting, according to a recent estimate, and the country is currently in the grips of the world's most urgent humanitarian crisis.

Western countries have provided arms as well as intelligence and logistical support to the Arab states in the Saudi-led alliance, but have shown increasing reservations about the war since the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Riyadh's consulate in Istanbul last month.

Griffiths, the UN special envoy, said on Friday that Yemen's warring parties have given "firm assurances" that they are committed to attending peace talks. He said he hopes both sides will meet in Sweden before the end of the year to agree on a framework for peace under a transitional government.