Martin Griffiths, the United Nations envoy for Yemen, has arrived in the strategic port city of Hodeidah to discuss plans with Houthi rebels to cede control of the port to the world body and lay the groundwork for restarting peace talks.
Griffiths, who started a Yemen peace mission in rebel-held Sanaa on Wednesday, said on Friday he discussed with Houthi officials “how the UN could contribute to keeping the peace” in Hodeidah.
“I am here to tell you today that we have agreed that the UN should now pursue actively and urgently detailed negotiations for a leading UN role in the port and more broadly,” Griffiths told reporters.
Griffiths urged Yemen’s warring parties to “keep the peace” in the port city, saying the “attention of the world is on Hodeidah”.
Also on Friday, UN spokesperson Rheal LeBlanc said the world body was ready to play a supervisory role in managing the port, which before the beginning of the war in March 2015 handled more than 70 percent of the country’s imports.
Earlier this year, Abdel-Malik al-Houthi, the chief of Houthi rebels, had said he was prepared to hand over control of Hodeidah port to the UN if the Saudi-UAE military alliance halted its offensive on the city.
Riyadh and Abu Dhabi see the port as the main entry point of weapons for the Houthis and have accused their regional rival Iran of sending missiles to the rebels, a charge Tehran has denied.
In the past week, fighting has all but ended with the rebels and pro-government forces, backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, expressing support for the UN envoy’s plan to end the more than three-year-war.
Griffiths is expected to meet with local officials in Hodeidah later on Friday.
No date has yet been set for the negotiations, but the warring parties are expected to meet in Sweden in early December.
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow, reporting from neighbouring Djibouti, said Griffiths and the international community were aware that “there can be no solution to the massive humanitarian crisis as long as fighting continues in places that are crucial to aid workers”.
According to the World Food Programme, up to 14 million Yemenis are now at risk of starvation.
Adow also said there was “momentum” to ending the war in Yemen. “Everyone sees the peace talks as the best possible chance to achieve this.”
Years of war
Griffiths had arrived in capital Sanaa on Wednesday and met with rebel leader al-Houthi to discuss their attendance in the next round of consultations.
Mohammed Abdul Salam, a spokesman for the Houthis, said in a statement on Twitter on Thursday that conditions for a ceasefire and an offer for Houthis to receive overseas medical treatment were discussed.
According to the statement, al-Houthi also asked for an end to economic restrictions on rebel-held areas.
Nader Hashemi, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, said the pressure was rising on Riyadh and Washington to end the war in Yemen because of the international outcry following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The war in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, started in 2014 when the government slashed fuel subsidies, prompting massive protests in Sanaa.
The Houthis seized the opportunity and marched south from their stronghold of Saada province to the capital, where they toppled Hadi’s government.
Concerned by the rise of the Houthis, a Saudi-led military coalition, backed by the United States, intervened in 2015 with a massive air campaign aimed at reinstalling Hadi’s government.
Since then, data collected by Al Jazeera and the Yemen Data Project has found that more than 18,000 air raids have been carried out in Yemen, with almost one-third of all bombing missions striking non-military sites.
Weddings, funerals, schools and hospitals, as well as water and electricity plants, have been hit, killing and wounding thousands.