Washington (AFP) – The United States warned Monday that aid must flow through the Yemeni port of Hodeida amid reports that Emirati forces plan to seize it from Huthi rebels.
The statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stopped short of warning the Saudi and UAE-led coalition against besieging the key city.
But he urged them to support United Nations peace efforts. The UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen has warned such an attack would be a “catastrophe.”
Pompeo said the United States is “closely following developments” in Hodeida, home to 600,000 people and the point of entry of 70 percent of Yemen’s imports.
“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,” he said.
“We expect all parties to honor their commitments to work with the UN 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.”
There have been reports that close US ally the United Arab Emirates and local allies, tiring of the Huthi’s ability to tax imports at Hodeida, is planning to capture the port.
Yemeni government forces have advanced to within nine kilometers (six miles) of Hodeida, the Saudi-led military coalition said last week.
The push for the strategic Red Sea port has killed more than 100 soldiers and insurgents, according to medics and government military sources.
The Iran-backed rebels, who have so far refused to withdraw from the port, claim 418 loyalist fighters have been killed.
The UN’s top envoy for Yemen pushed for all sides to de-escalate the fighting around Hodeida during a visit earlier this month to broker negotiations.
The Huthis captured Hodeida and Yemen’s capital Sanaa in 2014, with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies intervening on behalf of the government the following year.
Last week, Lise Grande, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, warned: “A military attack or siege on Hodeida will impact hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.”
And her statement warned that the likely “catastrophic humanitarian impact” would be worsened due to Hodeida’s key role as the point of entry for some 70 percent of Yemen’s imports.
The conflict in Yemen has left nearly 10,000 people dead in what was already the Arab world’s poorest country.
More than 22 million people are now in serious need of aid, with 8.4 million on the brink of starvation, the United Nations has said.