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UN council meets amid call for freeze on Yemen port offensive

By AFP - Jun 15,2018 - Last updated at Jun 15,2018

Yemeni pro-government forces flash the victory gesture as they arrive in Al Durayhimi district, about 9 kilometres south of Hodeidah International Airport, on Wednesday (AFP photo)

United Nations, United States — The UN Security Council met behind closed doors on Thursday to address fears that a Saudi-led coalition's offensive on a key port in Yemen will lead to a humanitarian catastrophe.

Sweden, a non-permanent council member and leading voice on humanitarian issues, called on the council to demand an immediate halt to the assault to allow time for talks on a rebel withdrawal from Hodeida Port.

The United Nations has warned that the military operation could cripple deliveries of commercial goods and humanitarian aid to millions of people in Yemen who are on the brink of famine.

"It is time for the Security Council to call for an immediate freeze of the military attack on Hodeida," said Swedish Deputy Ambassador Carl Skau in a statement ahead of the meeting.

"This is needed to give the special envoy and United Nations-led efforts a chance to avert disaster and find a sustainable political solution to the conflict."

Britain requested the urgent talks at the council — the second meeting by the top UN body this week on the crisis in Yemen.

The UN's envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, was to brief council members by video-conference. A senior UN aid official was also to report on humanitarian operations.

The Red Sea port, controlled by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, serves as the entry point for 70 per cent of the impoverished country's imports, but the coalition maintains that the rebels use it to smuggle weapons.

Asked about Sweden's call for a freeze in fighting, British Ambassador Karen Pierce said council members needed to first get more facts on the situation on the ground.

"The important thing that Martin Griffith was trying to do is to negotiate Houthi withdrawal from Hodeida. I think if it is possible for him still to do that, we should back his efforts to do so," Pierce told reporters ahead of the meeting.

On Monday, the Security Council said it supported Griffiths' diplomatic efforts but did not call on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, whose troops are backing Yemeni forces, to refrain from attacking Hodeida.

More than 22 million people in Yemen are in need of aid, including 8.4 million who are at risk of starvation, according to the United Nations, which considers Yemen to be the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

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