Saudis, allies 'want to scale down Yemen hostilities'

They also support UN efforts for peace talks between coalition and rebels, says source

Yemeni soldiers taking part in a military manoeuvre supported by the Saudi-led military coalition in the eastern province of Marib, Yemen, last week. Government coalition warplanes carried out dozens of air strikes on Sunday to support pro-government
Yemeni soldiers taking part in a military manoeuvre supported by the Saudi-led military coalition in the eastern province of Marib, Yemen, last week. Government coalition warplanes carried out dozens of air strikes on Sunday to support pro-government forces in fighting that appears to be edging further into Hodeida, approaching the city's main university. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

ADEN • Saudi Arabia and its allies yesterday said they are committed to de-escalating hostilities in Yemen, only days after launching a renewed offensive on a port crucial for humanitarian aid.

"The coalition is committed to de-escalating hostilities in Yemen and is strongly supportive of the UN envoy's political process," a source in the Saudi-led coalition told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in the conflict in 2015, aiming to bolster the standing of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi as he fought an insurgency by Shi'ite Houthis from northern Yemen.

Last Thursday, the Saudi-led alliance restarted its military campaign to capture Hodeida, the rebel-held Red Sea city that is home to a strategic port.

It had suspended the offensive ahead of United Nations efforts to hold peace talks in Geneva that eventually collapsed in September.

The UN-sponsored process fell apart after the rebels refused to travel to the Swiss city unless the world body guaranteed both their team's safe return to Sanaa and the evacuation of wounded fighters.

The UN envoy for Yemen, Mr Martin Griffiths, now hopes to schedule talks between the government and the Houthis this month.

Government coalition warplanes carried out dozens of air strikes on Sunday to support pro-government forces in fighting that appears to be edging further into Hodeida, approaching the city's main university.

Dozens of rebels and soldiers were killed in battles and the raids, according to sources in hospitals across the areas.

The source in the Saudi-led coalition said the current clashes were not "offensive operations", adding that the alliance was "committed to keeping the Hodeida port open".

"If the Houthis fail to show up for peace talks again, this might lead (us) to restart the offensive operation in Hodeida," the source said.

"The humanitarian situation in Yemen is unacceptable. We are committed to ending the conflict as soon as possible. If the Houthis show up, we will continue our humanitarian efforts," he said. "If they don't, we will also continue those efforts."

The UN children's fund, Unicef, on Sunday warned that an assault on Hodeida city would jeopardise the lives of Yemenis across the country who depend on its port for humanitarian aid.

The World Health Organisation estimates nearly 10,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led camp joined the war in 2015.

Human rights groups say the toll could be five times higher.

Fourteen million people are facing famine in Yemen, a situation the UN has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump has said Saudi Arabia misused US-supplied weapons in its bombing campaign in Yemen and that his administration is carefully examining the conflict.

"I think it's a terrible situation," Mr Trump told Axios in an interview aired on Sunday on HBO, calling the Saudi bombing of a school bus in August "a horror show".

His administration, Mr Trump said, is studying the war "very, very carefully". He did not elaborate, and he declined to say whether he was reconsidering US arm sales to the Saudis or active support of its Yemen campaign.

The United States continues to provide intelligence and aerial refuelling for the Saudi attacks.

Mr Trump criticised Saudi conduct of the aerial campaign, saying the government should not have people "who don't know how to use the weapons shooting at buses with children. We teach them how to use the equipment".

The Saudi campaign, aimed at Iran-supported Houthi rebels in Yemen, has been broadly criticised for resulting in the deaths of thousands of civilians and contributing to a worsening famine.

US Defence Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have called for both sides to end the war, but Mr Pompeo last week said the Houthis must take the first step by stopping missile and unmanned aerial vehicle attacks on Saudi Arabian and United Arab Emirates territory.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2018, with the headline Saudis, allies 'want to scale down Yemen hostilities'. Subscribe