The Saudi-UAE military alliance says it is halting its offensive on the western Yemeni city of Hodeidah, after nearly two weeks of fierce air and ground assault to push out Houthi rebels from the strategic city.
A source in the military alliance told the Reuters news agency on Thursday that “the coalition has instructed forces on the ground to halt fighting inside Hodeidah” – which is the port of entry for most food, aid and commercial goods.
A non-military source with knowledge of the decision said the coalition was responding to international requests for a ceasefire to ensure the Houthis attend planned peace talks.
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow, reporting from neighbouring Djibouti, said there had been limited reaction from the Houthis but the armed group was “prepared to continue fighting”.
“So far, there’s been a lull in fighting. The Houthis have not confirmed the ceasefire but have said that both sides are keeping to their positions.”
Between November 3 and 12, there had been more than 200 air attacks on the city, with the fighting killing at least 600 Houthis according to an AFP tally.
A number of countries had recently called for a cessation ahead of renewed UN-led peace efforts to end the war which has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
Among them were the United States, Britain and France, three countries that provide the coalition with military equipment, intelligence and logistics.
The UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, said the Emirates supported UN plans to hold peace talks in Sweden by the end of the year.
“We welcome early convening of UN-led talks in Sweden,” Gargash, tweeted. He said the coalition would “urge all parties to take advantage of [the] window of opportunity to restart the political process” at a UN Security Council meeting on Friday.
We welcome early convening of UN-led talks in Sweden. At UNSC meeting on Friday, Coalition will urge all parties to take advantage of window of opportunity to restart political process.
We look forward to hosting Martin Griffiths this week in Abu Dhabi.
— د. أنور قرقاش (@AnwarGargash) November 14, 2018
Yemen‘s exiled president said late on Wednesday that he backed UN-proposed talks to end the fighting but vowed to “liberate” the port city regardless of the peace process.
A spokesman for the president said via the official Saba news agency that Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi “has issued directives to back all efforts that guarantee the interests of Yemen in reaching sustainable peace” based on UN resolutions.
“The battle of the Yemeni people to liberate Hodeidah is inevitable, whether through peace or war,” the statement said.
The conflict in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, began when the government slashed fuel subsidies in the summer of 2014, prompting angry protests and forcing thousands onto the capital’s streets.
The Houthis seized the opportunity and marched south from their stronghold of Saada province to the capital, Sanaa, where they toppled Hadi’s government.
The US-backed Saudi-UAE military coalition 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 attacks 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 targeted, killing and wounding thousands.