United Nations: The UN envoy for Yemen said Friday the momentum to end the country’s devastating five-year war is building, pointing to a nearly 80 per cent drop in air strikes nationwide in the last two weeks, a strengthened cease-fire in the key port of Hodeida, and the beginning of the kind of leadership needed to restore peace to the Arab world’s poorest nation.

Martin Griffiths told the UN Security Council that developments since infighting between the internationally recognised government and the Southern Transitional Council in Yemen’s south in August “are beginning to produce results”.

In possibly the most important sign “that something is changing”, he said the dramatic reduction in air strikes compared with the two previous weeks indicated “a reduction in the tempo of the war, and perhaps a move towards an overall cease-fire”.

Griffiths also noted that the cessation of missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia by Al Houthi militia, which the group announced on September 20, “has been sustained for a second month in a row”.

The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sana’a, by Iranian-backed Al Houthis. A Saudi-led coalition allied with the internationally recognised government has been fighting Al Houthis since 2015.

The Associated Press reported last week that Saudi Arabia and Al Houthis are holding indirect, behind-the-scenes talks to end the war mediated by Oman in the Gulf nation, quoting officials from both sides.

In his video briefing, Griffiths cited evidence of the leadership required to end the war in the November 5 power-sharing agreement between Yemen’s government and the STC brokered by Saudi Arabia in the capital Riyadh.

“The prospect of a break-up of the state was real and frankly terrifying,” he said.

Griffiths said that during 86 days of negotiations leaders from both sides sat together and agreed to work for a greater cause and the Saudi leadership “praised them for their courage rather than criticising them” for the length of time to reach a deal. “It should serve as a catalyst to move Yemen swiftly towards settling this conflict through political means,” Griffiths said.

The UN envoy said there are also “continued positive signs” in implementing last December’s agreement on Hodeida, Yemen’s major port and most important entry point for international aid.

Griffiths cited this month’s agreement with the government on a new way to deposit taxes and customs fees for commercial oil and gas shipments that averted a crisis and allowed fuel ships to enter Hodeida.

He said the parties “have also strengthened their adherence to the cease-fire” in Hodeida by establishing a new “cease-fire enhancement and de-escalation mechanism” that reduced the number of security incidents in the Hodeida region by 40 per cent. And he said the creation of five joint observation posts has led to an 80 per cent reduction in security incidents in Hodeida city.

At the same time, Griffiths also expressed concern at increasing restrictions on the movement of UN personnel overseeing implementation of the Hodeida agreement.

UN deputy humanitarian chief Ursula Mueller told the council there has been “an alarming increase in violence and harassment targeting humanitarian workers” in areas controlled by Al Houthis, as well as continuing attacks in the country.