Washington: Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis have indicated they would be willing to hand over management of Hodeida port to the United Nations, a potential breakthrough in a conflict that has caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, sources familiar with the efforts said.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have pledged a swift military operation to take over the airport and seaport without entering the city center, to minimise civilian casualties and maintain the flow of essential goods.
The Saudis and Emiratis, who intervened in Yemen in 2015, say they must recapture Hodeida to deprive Al Houthis of their main source of income and prevent them from bringing in missiles from Iran.
Hodeida port is a principal entry point for relief supplies for Yemen.
UN officials have warned that large-scale fighting in the city could threaten tens of thousands.
UN envoy Martin Griffiths has been in the Al Houthi-controlled Yemeni capital, Sana’a, and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, this week to try to negotiate a solution.
A US official said the United States was urging the Saudis and Emiratis to accept the deal.
A diplomatic source at the United Nations said the coalition had informed Griffiths it would study the proposal.
The source said Al Houthis indicated they would accept overall UN rule for port management and inspections.
A Western diplomat said the United Nations would oversee income from the port and make sure it gets to Yemen’s central bank.
The understanding is for Yemeni state employees to remain working alongside the United Nations.
“The Saudis have given some positive signals on this as well to the UN envoy over the last 24 hours. The Emiratis also gave positive murmurs but the deal still has a little way to go,” the Western diplomat said.
The Saudi-led Arab coalition has long called for Al Houthis to hand over control of the port city to the UN, which they rejected many times.
But a recent flash offensive on the port city has tipped the scales in favour of the coalition where Al Houthis have sustained major losses.
Since then, the coalition has said that the port should be handed over to the Yemeni government and not the UN.
By accepting the offer to hand over the port to the UN, Al Houthis are finding themselves in an increasingly weakened position.
The Saudi-led coalition intervened in the war in 2015 to roll back Al Houthi control of Yemen’s main population centers and reinstate its internationally-recognised government, ousted in late 2014.