As international concerns grow that the Saudi-led coalition is about to launch a military offensive on the critical Yemen port city of Hudaydah, the United States has called on all stakeholders to work with the United Nations to find a peaceful solution.
“I have spoken with Emirati leaders and made clear our desire to address their security concerns, while preserving the free flow of humanitarian aid and life-saving commercial imports,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Monday.
The United Arab Emirates is Saudi Arabia’s main coalition partner fighting Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen for the past three years.
“We expect all parties to honor their commitments to work with the U.N. Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen on this issue, support a political process to resolve this conflict, ensure humanitarian access to the Yemeni people, and map a stable political future for Yemen,” the statement went on.
Heavy fighting around Hudaydah intensified over the weekend, even as the U.N. attempted to broker a ceasefire.
Aid groups said Monday they had been warned to evacuate their staff by Tuesday ahead of the anticipated UAE-led offensive against the militants who have controlled the city for the last two years.
Despite an international arms embargo against the rebels, the coalition said they are using Hudaydah port to smuggle weapons into the country.
The U.N. Security Council held a closed-door emergency meeting at Britain’s request on Monday morning.
U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock briefed council members. He told reporters afterward that Hudaydah is a lifeline for the poverty-stricken country, which imports 90 percent of its food, fuel and medicines — 70 percent of which come through the city’s port.
“Hudaydah is absolutely central to the preserving of life,” Lowcock said. “If for any period Hudaydah were not to operate effectively, the consequences, in humanitarian terms, would be catastrophic.”
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, who is Security Council president this month, told reporters that council members discussed “the need for de-escalation” around Hudaydah.
Asked about the situation during a news conference, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said his special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, is conducting “intense negotiations,” shuttling between Sana’a, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
“There is a lull in the fighting to allow for them, and I hope that it will be possible to avoid a battle of Hudaydah,” Guterres said.
The U.N. estimates 22 million Yemenis are in need of some form of humanitarian assistance and protection, calling the conflict the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Saudi Arabia began bombing Houthi rebels in support of the Yemeni government in March 2015. Since then, the U.N. estimates more than 10,000 people have been killed, mostly due to airstrikes.
Nike Ching contributed to this report.