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UN aims for Yemen peace talks by end of year, not end of month

United Nations revises timeline to bring warring parties to negotiating table, as dire humanitarian situation in Yemen worsens
Millions of Yemenis are on brink of famine because of conflict, UN has warned (Reuters)

Attempts to bring together Yemen's warring parties for peace talks by the end of November have been revised to the end of the year, a UN spokesman said on Thursday. 

UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths, who is due to brief the Security Council on 16 November, is trying to salvage peace talks that collapsed in September and had planned to bring the parties to the negotiating table before the end of the month.

However, UN spokesman Farhan Haq said the goal now is for political consultations to take place before the end of the year.

"There's always different challenges to bringing the parties together," Haq told reporters. "What we're trying to do is clear up any issues so that we can get a successful round of talks as soon as possible."

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Saudi Arabia launched a military campaign in Yemen in early 2015 to root out Iran-backed Houthi rebels who had taken over the capital, Sanaa and deposed then-president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

The fighting has crippled the country, which is facing an increasingly dire humanitarian situation and the threat of widespread famine. As many as 56,000 people have been killed as a direct result of the conflict, according to a recent estimate.

Last week, the United States and Britain stepped up calls for an end to the almost four-year-old war, increasing pressure on Saudi Arabia as it faces a global outcry over the murder of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

International push to end fighting

An attempt to hold Yemen peace talks in Geneva in September was abandoned after three days of waiting for the Houthi delegation.

The Houthis had said they wanted guarantees from the UN that their plane would not have to stop in Djibouti for inspection by the Saudi-led coalition. They also wanted the plane to evacuate some of their wounded to Oman or Europe.

Meanwhile, Houthi fighters battled Saudi-led forces in Yemen's port city of Hodeidah on Thursday and posted gunmen on the roof of a hospital, leaving doctors and young patients in the line of fire, rights groups and military sources said.

Earlier in the week, UNICEF said dozens of hospitalised children at Al-Thawra hospital in Hodeidah were at "imminent risk of death" amid the fighting.

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British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said on Monday he would push for new action at the UN Security Council to try to end the hostilities and find a political solution.

UN diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Britain was working with the US on a draft resolution to stop the fighting in Yemen.

The conflict's humanitarian impact is causing increasing concern, as the World Health Organization estimates that about a third of Yemen's districts are at risk of sliding into famine. 

The UN's World Food Programme announced on Thursday that it would be doubling the amount of food aid it provides in the country to cover the needs of 14 million people.

"Yemen is the largest hunger crisis in the world. Millions of people are living on the edge of famine and the situation is getting worse by the day," said the agency, which is already providing food assistance to as many as 8 million Yemenis.