(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) To avoid prolonging the Yemeni war for years, Houthi rebels must withdraw their forces "unconditionally" from Hodeida, a UAE minister said on Monday.
Speaking during a media briefing in Dubai, Dr Anwar Mohammed Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said the Arab coalition's operation to liberate the Yemeni port city of Hodeida is facilitating a political process with caution, to prevent harm to civilians.
Dr Gargash said the situation in Hodeida is challenging, given its fragile humanitarian nature.
"The campaign we are leading isn't an easy task not only for military but also for the humanitarian condition. I want to stress that the solution to Yemen is political and UN-driven - a Yemeni-Yemeni dialogue. Our strategy as a coalition is to prevent Iran from creating militias, ensure ballistic missiles are controlled and eliminate Al Qaeda," said Gargash.
He said that the strategic goal is to end this war. "And we cannot accept that this war will continue for another two-three years just because Houthi militias have control over Hodeida," said Gargash.
"We are moving forward and we will achieve our goals, but we won't be pulled into an ugly fight that can harm civilians.
"We are sending clear signals to Houthi forces and others that they need to pull out because their days are numbered in the city and we want to save the civilians."
He said that UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths's facilitating talks with the Houthi militias would be the rebels' "last opportunity" to withdraw unconditionally from Hodeida.
"If that doesn't happen, we still insist on our strategic plan to end this war," he said. "Part of what everyone expected was for us to move quickly with massive operations to finish this off. We recognised the humanitarian fragility and the importance of the port. From the beginning, our plan depended on an ethical approach, which will take longer.
"We are offering to save the city and not to disrupt the port. Until we move to the next phase, we intend to achieve the objective to shorten the war."
Protecting lives He added that protecting human lives was the reason the solution is calibrated and gradual. The aim is to pressure the Houthis to make the right decision, which is to withdraw and pull their militias out.
Hodeida has been a major port for humanitarian operations to Yemen. The Houthi rebels have controlled the Hodeida area and its 600,00-odd residents since 2014.
The militias hamper the humanitarian efforts and the aid the UAE has been providing for the 1.7 million people in Yemen through Hodeida. The UAE recently deployed 10 ships and over 100 trucks of food and medical supplies.
"If required, we will also use airdrops to provide aid to prevent the humanitarian crisis in Yemen (from escalating)," said Gargash.
He referred to negotatiations with the rebel party over a year ago to make Hodeida neutral and allow it to become an access point for providing humanitarian relief.
"We spent more than a year through the UN and other bodies to negotiate that arrangement to save the port, but it was clear that the Houthis were just buying time and had no intention to withdraw their control over the port," Gargash added.
Militia fighters According to him, the UAE government has estimated that 2,000-3,000 militia soldiers are on the ground in the area, working as small groups of snipers with no uniforms.
"They throw mines in residential areas with no maps. This will pose a major issue in demining villages later on and it will scar Yemen for years to come."
He said that the solution to the Yemeni crisis requires a shift in landscape and political process.
"Hodeida has been a major money maker for Houthi militias. If they have $3 billion - most of which comes from their control over the port and over the capital - the logic would be why give it up," said Gargash.
He said while the UAE is only part of the coalition, arrangements of control must involve the Yemeni government.
He stressed that the 600,000 people of Hodeida refuse to subscribe to the "radical sadism" that Houthis are pushing for, rejecting the occupation.
"There was a Yemeni-Yemeni dialogue of state coming out of popular uprising and that dialogue was moving forward, but (the rebels) decided to turn the table and impose the sort of Yemen they wanted, whereas there should have been a consensus."
Dr Gargash stressed that the UAE will continue supporting the Yemeni government.
'It isn't in Qatar's interest to support Houthis' During a media briefing, Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, called Qatar's support of Houthi rebels "odd".
"We are used to the opportunistic nature of Qatar that depended on its crisis with Saudi Arabia to use other avenues to scream its presence," said Gargash. However, he said it isn't in Qatar's interest to support the Iranian-backed militias, given that the latter's defeat can affect its position as a monarchy.
"It's a pity and foolish and does not address the main issue, which is the necessity of addressing the problem with its neighbours," said Dr Gargash.
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