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Yemen's Houthis agree to consider UN protection of embattled Hodeidah port

UN envoy to Yemen says UN wants to take 'leading role' to protect the port, a vital lifeline for humanitarian aid to the war-torn country
Many Hodeidah residents have been displaced from the city as a result of the fighting (Reuters)

The United Nations has said it hopes to come to an agreement to protect the port in Yemen's embattled city of Hodeidah, a vital lifeline through which much of the humanitarian aid enters the war-torn country.

UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths was in Hodeidah on Friday and said Yemen's Houthi rebels had agreed to hold talks toward allowing the UN to play a "leading role" in supervising the port, which is currently under Houthi control.

"We have agreed that the UN should now pursue actively and urgently detailed negotiations for a leading UN role in the port and more broadly," he told reporters, AFP reported.

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"We think that by playing this role we would help preserve a lifeline to the people in Yemen," said Griffiths, according to an Arabic translation of his remarks which was supplied to local journalists, Reuters said.

UN spokesman Rheal LeBlanc told reporters earlier in Geneva that Griffiths had specific ideas about managing the port that he would present to the parties to the conflict.

The aim is to "protect the port itself from potential destruction and preserve the main humanitarian pipeline to the people of Yemen", LeBlanc said.

Peace talks in Sweden next month

Griffiths landed in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, on Wednesday, as part of an international push to get the warring sides in the conflict to agree to a long-term ceasefire in Hodeidah.

Earlier this week, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Houthi rebels and the government of ousted Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, who is backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, had agreed to attend peace negotiations in Sweden early next month.

Griffiths also said last week that he had received "firm assurances" from both sides that they plan to attend the talks.

A Saudi-led coalition began a bombing campaign in Yemen three years ago after the Houthis took over Sanaa and ousted Hadi.

Leaders from every country have called for us all to keep the peace in Hodeidah

- Martin Griffiths, UN envoy to Yemen

The ongoing war has pushed millions of Yemenis to the verge of famine, and Save the Children estimates that as many as 85,000 Yemeni infants have been killed as a result of disease and malnutrition since 2015.

The Saudi-led coalition launched a major military operation to retake control of Hodeidah, which is under Houthi control.

Residents of the city have reported fierce clashes between the rebels and coalition fighters, and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it had treated hundreds of wounded people at its facilities in Hodeidah in the first half of November alone.

While the fighting appears to have subsided, the situation in the city remains critical. Griffiths urged the warring parties to "keep the peace".

"The attention of the world is on Hodeidah. Leaders from every country have called for us all to keep the peace in Hodeidah," he said.