The U.N. is trying to stop all-out war in key Yemen port city

"In Yemen, it is one minute to midnight.”
June 18, 2018, 10:45am

The U.N. is ready to step in and take administrative control of the vital Yemeni port of Hodeidah on the Red Sea, in a last-ditch effort to avoid an all-out bloody conflict in the city.

Hodeidah, under the control of Houthi rebels, has been under siege for six days, hindering the distribution of critical aid to the famine-ravaged country. Airstrikes continued to pound the outskirts of the city Monday as the port city remains on the brink of an all-out war, with troops from the United Arab Emirates leading the ground charge while Saudi warplanes drop bombs on targets surrounding the city.

On Sunday airstrikes pounded the airport in Hodeidah, with reports of up to 600 people dead since the assault began, and thousands of civilians fleeing the city.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said Monday that it was “just a matter of time” before the complete liberation of Hodeidah.

U.N. humanitarian coordinator Lise Grande told the Guardian that talks for a political solution to the crisis were at an advanced stage, with the U.N. prepared to step in and take control of the port to prevent the already desperate humanitarian crisis from worsening.

However the outcome is still very delicately balanced, and failure to secure a peaceful resolution could be catastrophic for the tens of millions of Yemeni civilians who rely on aid delivered to the port to survive.

The Houthi rebels have reportedly planted mines on all approaches to the port, and even in the port itself, raising fears they could blow up the infrastructure entirely if they don’t get their way.

The coalition forces have expressed their desire to launch a full-scale attack in order to bring a quicker end to the conflict.

Up to 80 percent of Yemen’s humanitarian aid, including food, fuel, and medicine, comes into the country through Hodeidah. The coalition claims that the Houthi rebels are also smuggling Iranian weapons through the port.

On Monday Martin Griffiths, the U.N. special envoy to Yemen, will present his peace plan to the U.N. Security Council in New York, having spent Saturday in the capital Sanaa trying to broker a deal between the opposing sides in the conflict.

On one side you have a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which also includes the remnants of Yemen’s internationally-recognized government. On the other side are the Houthi rebels who control Yemen’s most populated regions, including Sanaa.

Griffiths will be seeking to persuade a divided council to agree to implement his framework for peace negotiations. According to the plan, which was leaked to the press last week, the Houthi rebels would be required to agree to hand over all their weapons, except for light arms.

However one expert argues that such drastic action in an environment where trust is in limited supply, is unlikely to succeed.

“Griffiths should push for transitional arms control. Unlike disarmament, which is an all-or-nothing affair, transitional arms control is gradual and allows for the slow building of trust by getting the warring parties to step back from the brink while maintaining control of their weapons should they feel threatened,” said Gregory Johnsen, who served on the Yemen Panel of Experts at the U.N. Security Council between 2016 and 2018.

While the U.S. has tacitly supported the coalition forces in the three-year war in Yemen, its reaction to the latest crisis has been muted, and Johnsen believes that because the U.S. has stepped aside, “Griffiths is now the only person possible of pulling off a miracle. In Yemen, it is one minute to midnight.”