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UAE announces pause in Hudaida offensive

UAE says it has frozen fighting in Hudaida in order to give a chance to UN peace talks with the Houthis.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced a halt to its offensive against Houthi rebels in Yemen's port city of Hudaida to give a chance to United Nations diplomatic efforts.

In a series of tweets, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said on Sunday that the pause was aimed at pursuing negotiations for an "unconditional" rebel withdrawal from the port but warned that full military action could resume.

"We welcome continuing efforts by UN Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, to achieve an unconditional Houthi withdrawal from Hudaida city and port," Gargash said.

"We have paused our campaign to allow enough time for this option to be fully explored. We hope he will succeed."

Gargash said the pause had been in effect since June 23 and while there was continued "pressure on the parameter", pro-government forces were awaiting the results of an upcoming visit by Griffiths to the Houthi-held capital Sanaa.

Speaking to UN Radio on Friday, Griffiths said that the UN Security Council will meet next week to discuss the progress of the talks. He also said that negotiations between the warring parties could happen within two weeks, the first in two years.

"Both sides had shown a willingness to come to negotiations, saying such talks were long overdue," he said.

"The issue of Hudaida is an incredibly important issue but it is not more important than the issue of an overall political solution."

'Unconditional withdrawal'

Meanwhile, the Houthis - who seized control of the city in late 2014 - said that while they may be willing to share control of Hudaida's port with the UN, their forces must remain in the docks and the rest of the Red Sea city.

However, Yemen's government says the political solution to the country's civil war begins with the "complete and unconditional" withdrawal of rebels from Hudaida.

The official news agency SABA quoted on Saturday the government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi as saying that ceasefire efforts will fail if the Houthis refuse to withdraw from the provinces they hold, including Hudaida.

Khaled al-Yamani, the foreign minister, said that there can be no political arrangements before security matters are sorted out.

"We cannot accept one item of Griffith's initiative, unless it primarily calls for the withdrawal of the Houthis from the city of Hudaida and its port," he said.

World's worst humanitarian crisis

A Saudi-led coalition backing Hadi's forces launched an offensive on June 13 to retake the port city, a lifeline for Yemen's population.

More than 5,000 families living on the outskirts of Hudaida have been displaced by the fighting between the Houthis and the UAE and their allied troops.

Furthermore, two-thirds of Yemen's population of 27 million rely on aid from Hudaida port and 8.4 million are already at the risk of starvation, leading the UN to describe the country as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The offensive is the largest since March 2015, when a Saudi Arabia-led coalition launched a military offensive aimed at reinstalling the government of Hadi, after the Houthis' rapid takeover of the capital and other areas in the country.

Since then, more than 10,000 people have been killed and at least 40,000 wounded, mostly from Saudi-led air attacks.

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