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Military offensive open if rebels reject Hodeida pullout: Yemen govt

Middle East News
Fri, 07 Dec 2018

Rimbo, Sweden: A government offensive on Yemen's Hodeida is still an option if rebels refuse to withdraw from the port city, a minister said Friday, as the warring sides met for UN-brokered talks.

"We are now in negotiations in response to calls by the international community, the UN and the UN envoy. We are still looking into means towards peace," said Agriculture Minister Othman al-Mujalli.

"But if they (the rebels) are not responsive, we have many options, including that of military decisiveness," he said in response to a question on the rebel-held city. "And we are ready."

Talks between Yemen's government and Houthi rebels, linked to Iran, opened Thursday in Sweden, the first meeting between the two sides in two years in a conflict that has pushed impoverished Yemen to the brink of mass starvation.

While the days leading up to the gathering saw the government and rebels agreeing on a prisoner swap deal and the evacuation of wounded insurgents for medical treatment in Oman, both parties dug in on their demands as the talks began.

The talks are expected to cover the fate of Hodeida, a city on Yemen's western coastline that houses the country's most valuable port.

The government accuses the Houthis of arms smuggling through Hodeida - also a conduit for 90 per cent of food imports - and has demanded the rebels withdraw from the port.

Negotiations will also cover a prisoner swap between the two sides and the potential reopening of Sanaa airport, located in the rebel-held capital and largely shut down for three years. 

"We are keen on the opening of Sanaa airport, and we demand the opening of Sanaa airport and we know that the Yemeni citizen should have the right to reach any country in the world through Sanaa airport," said Abdulaziz Jabari, a presidential advisor and member of a Yemeni government delegation at the Sweden talks.

"But... we are looking into who will supervise Sanaa airport."

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