WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Huties aligned with Iran in Yemen said they would be willing to hand over management of the Hodeidah port to the United Nations, a possible breakthrough in a conflict that has caused the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, familiar sources with the efforts said.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have promised a quick military operation to take the airport and port without entering the city center, to minimize civilian casualties and maintain the flow of essential goods.
The Saudis and the Emiratis, who intervened in Yemen in 2015, say they must recapture Hodeidah to deprive the Houthis of their main source of income and prevent missiles from entering.
The port of Hodeidah is the main entry point for relief supplies for Yemen. US officials UU They have warned that large-scale fighting in the city could threaten tens of thousands.
U.N. The envoy Martin Griffiths has been in the Yemeni capital, controlled by Houthi, Sanaa and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, this week to try to negotiate a solution.
A US official UU He said the United States was urging the Saudis and the Emiratis to accept the deal. A diplomatic source at the United Nations said the coalition had informed Griffiths that he would study the proposal.
The source said that the Houthis indicated that they would accept the general rule of the USA. UU For administration and port inspections.
A Western diplomat said the United Nations would monitor the port's revenues and ensure they reach the central bank of Yemen. The agreement is for Yemeni state employees to continue working together with the United Nations.
"The Saudis have also given some positive signals about this to the US envoy In the last 24 hours, the Emiratis also gave positive murmurs, but the agreement still has a small way to go," said the diplomat. western.
The sources warned that the plan still needed the agreement of all parties to the conflict and that, at least in its initial stages, it would not lead to an immediate ceasefire.
In a statement on Thursday, Griffiths said he was "encouraged by the constructive engagement" of the Houthis and would hold meetings with the internationally backed Yemeni president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.
There were no immediate comments from the embassies of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in Washington. The representatives of Houthi could not be contacted for immediate comments.
The coalition led by Saudi Arabia intervened in the war in 2015 to reverse control of Yemen's main population centers and re-establish its internationally recognized government.
The battle of Hodeidah coincides with rising tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which are locked in a three-year power war in Yemen that has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced 3 million and pushed the impoverished country to the verge of starvation.
The United States has provided refueling and some intelligence for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, but US officials do UU They say they are not providing direct help to Hodeidah's offensive.
But Washington is a major arms supplier for Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, which critics say make it an accomplice to civilian casualties.
Questions remain about the withdrawal of the Houthis from the city of Hodeidah itself, as demanded by the Emirates and their Yemeni allies, as well as a broader ceasefire, the Western diplomat said.
Securing an agreement to leave the city could be "one of the main points of friction," said the Western diplomat.
Speaking before the United Nations, the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the UN, Abdallah al-Mouallimi, reiterated the coalition's demand that the Houthis leave the city completely, while mentioning the slow progress of Griffiths .
"On the ground, what we are offering is for the Houthis to hand over their weapons to the government of Yemen and leave, leave peacefully and provide information on the location of the mines and improvised explosive devices, etc.," he said. Mouallimi.
Earlier on Thursday, Houthi's spokesman Mohammed Abdelsalam highlighted the "positivity of the group in dealing with the United Nations over port revenues," but criticized the Saudi-led coalition, whose goal was "to destroy Yemen." .
Report of Yara Bayoumy, Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay; Additional reports by John Walcott in Washington, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations and Ali Abelaty in Cairo; Written by Warren Strobel and Yara Bayoumy; Edition of Peter Cooney