The UN special envoy to Yemen is expected to arrive in the Yemeni city of Hodeidah as part of his renewed push for peace, as sporadic fighting continued in the strategic port city.
Martin Griffiths is spearheading the biggest push in two years to get the warring parties to join the upcoming peace negotiations aimed at ending almost four years of devastating conflict.
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow, reporting for neighbouring Djibouti, said residents in Hodeidah say there is no meaningful ceasefire in place as there are still sporadic clashes near the city’s outskirts.
“When they announced that they were going to stop drone and ballistic missile attacks against their opponents, the Houthi fighters were categorical that they still have the right to defend their positions, which they have been fortifying in the past days,” Adow said.
The UN envoy arrived in the capital city of Sanaa on Wednesday, where he met the leaders of Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who have been in control of the Yemeni capital since 2014.
Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, head of the Houthi rebels’ Higher Revolutionary Committee and an influential political figure, tweeted on Thursday that he “hopes there is no escalation in military operations by the coalition [Saudi-UAE] following Griffiths’s visit to Hodeida”.
Griffiths’ planned visit to Hodeidah, which has become the focus of the country’s ongoing war, comes a day after US Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced that talks would commence by early December in Sweden between Houthi rebels and the UN-recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Earlier peace talks between the government, supported by Saudi Arabia, and the Houthi rebels collapsed in September after Houthis were not able to attend.
Last week, Griffith said that Yemen’s parties had given “firm assurances” they are committed to attending peace talks to agree on a framework for peace under a transitional government.
But military officials say intermittent clashes have continued to erupt in the Red Sea city of Hodeidah.
Fighting broke out followed by a lull in violence earlier this month in Hodeidah as Saudi-UAE coalition warplanes reportedly carried out air attacks on Houthi positions.
The port city – the main gateway for imports of relief supplies and commercial goods into the country – is under Houthi control. In June, the Saudi-UAE alliance launched a wide-ranging operation to retake the strategic seaport.
According to Adow, Griffiths is keen on maintaining a ceasefire before taking the two sides to the negotiating table in Sweden.
He also said talk of the Houthis handing over the port to a third party was not looking feasible at the moment.
Efforts to launch peace negotiators failed in September when the Houthis did not show up at the talks in Switzerland, saying they needed stronger security guarantees from the international community. The Saudi-UAE coalition has enforced a crippling air and sea blockade on the Middle East’s poorest country since March 2015.
Western allies, including the United States, have called for a ceasefire to end the nearly four-year-old war that has killed more than 10,000 people, according to the World Health Organization, and caused the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis.
UN agencies say up to 14 million Yemenis are at risk of starvation if the port of Hodeidah is closed by fighting or damage.
Aid group Save the Children reported on Wednesday that as many as 85,000 children may have starved to death in the past three years during its brutal war.
The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen’s war in 2015 to restore Hadi’s government, which was removed from Sanaa by the Houthis in 2014.