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Saudi-led coalition threatens to use ‘force’ in Yemen to drive Houthis out of Hudaydah

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Soldiers with the Saudi-led coalition are seen outside a damaged warehouse of Yemen’s Red sea mills company in the port city of Hudaydah on January 22, 2019. (Photo be AFP)

The Saudi-led coalition waging war on Yemen has threatened to use “force” to push the country’s Houthi Ansarullah movement to withdraw from the Yemeni Red Sea port city of Hudaydah under a UN-brokered ceasefire in the flashpoint area.

The United Arab Emirates’ Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash, whose country is Saudi Arabia’s main ally in the war, tweeted on Wednesday that the coalition had targeted 10 Houthi training camps outside Hudaydah Province  on Wednesday.

He said the coalition was “prepared to use more calibrated force” against Houthis to make them abide by a UN-sponsored peace agreement in Sweden last month.

Representatives from the Houthi Ansarullah movement and the Riyadh-sponsored government of ex-president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, reached the truce deal during UN-mediated peace talks in Sweden in December 2018.

Under the deal, they agreed to the withdrawal of their troops and the deployment of UN monitors to the port city, which serves as a critical entry point for food and humanitarian aid.

However, the Houthis – who control Hudaydah -- have repeatedly complained that the Saudi-led coalition has been violating the ceasefire.

Gargash’s aggressive remarks run contrary to those by the UN’s special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths on the delay in the withdrawal of the parties from Hudaydah under the terms of the Sweden deal.

“We have seen the timelines for implementation extended, both in Hudaydah, and the prisoner exchange agreement. Such changes in timelines are expected,” Griffiths said. “The initial timelines were rather ambitious. We are dealing with a complex situation on the ground.”

Prisoner swap

Also on Wednesday, Saudi Arabia released seven Houthi prisoners, who were transferred from Riyadh to Sana’a by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The office of UN envoy for Yemen said he hoped that the move would give rise to a “rapid implementation of the prisoner exchange agreement” reached as part of the Hudaydah truce deal.

The two warring sides agreed to exchange 15,000 detainees and have submitted lists of prisoners' names to UN mediators.

The ICRC, which is overseeing the prisoner exchange process between the warring sides, confirmed it had flown seven Yemenis to Sana’a.

The Saudi move came days after Ansarullah freed a Saudi soldier “on compassionate grounds.”

Yemen’s Arabic-language al-Masirah television network named the Saudi soldier as Mussa al-Awaji, and said he had been released “without conditions, as a humanitarian gesture.”

Mirella Hodeib, ICRC’s spokeswoman in Sana’a, described the prisoner exchanges this week as “a step in the right direction,” expressing hope that the warring parties would “put in place the agreement on definitive lists to start the exchange operation on a larger scale.”

Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched a devastating military campaign against Yemen in March 2015, with the aim of bringing the former Saudi-sponsored government back to power.

According to a new report by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization, the Saudi-led war has so far claimed the lives of around 56,000 Yemenis.

The Saudi-led war has also taken a heavy toll on the country’s infrastructure, destroying hospitals, schools, and factories. The UN has already said that a record 22.2 million Yemenis are in dire need of food, including 8.4 million threatened by severe hunger.

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