Griffiths in Oman in fresh Yemen peace bid

Cairo: UN peace envoy Martin Griffiths has arrived in Oman in a fresh bid to revive Yemen’s peace process days after Iran-allied Al Houthis militants scuttled his efforts to host indirect talks in Geneva between them and the Saudi-backed Yemen government.

Griffiths conferred with Omani Minister of Foreign Affairs Yousuf Bin Alawi in Muscat and discussed efforts to re-establish peace in Yemen, Oman’s state news agency ONA reported Thursday without details.

The former British diplomat was expected to meet Al Houthi officials before flying to Yemen’s rebel-controlled capital Sana’a.

Last week, Griffiths’ peacemaking efforts suffered a blow when Al Houthis stayed away from a round of UN-brokered consultations, which were scheduled for September 6 in Geneva.

His current bid comes amid escalating fighting in Yemen where government forces, supported by an Saudi-led Arab coalition, are pursuing a new campaign to liberate the Red Sea of Hodeida in western Yemen from Al Houthis.

Yemeni army and government loyalists have cut off a main rebel supply route between Hodeida and Sana’a this week after they seized control of the district of Kilo 16 east of Hodeida. Government forces are advancing on the outskirts of the coastal city, field sources said.

Al Houthis have admitted that two of their leading commanders were killed in the West Coast fighting and the coalition’s massive operation there.

Hodeida is strategically important because it has a harbour, which is a lifeline for millions of Yemenis, as most of the commercial imports and relief supplies enter the country through it.

The coalition accuses Al Houthis of taking advantage of their control of Hodeida port to obtain weapons from their Iranian patrons as well as confiscate aid intended for Yemenis in order to sustain their war efforts.

Al Houthis have been in control of Hodeida and Sana’a since their late 2014 coup against the internationally-recognised government.

In June, the government forces, backed by coalition air power, unleashed a major offensive to expel Al Houthis from Hodeida.

The campaign was temporarily halted in support of Griffiths’ efforts to revive Yemen’s long-stalled peacemaking and to induce the extremists to peacefully withdraw from the city.

Following the non-start of the Geneva talks, the coalition-supported Yemeni forces have ramped up military action against Al Houthis in different parts of the country.

Meanwhile, writing in the Washington Post, UAE ambassador to the US Yousuf Al Otaiba said the Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a dangerous branch of the radical organisation, has been reduced to its weakest point since 2012. “The intensive campaign has removed more than 2,000 hardcore militants from the battlefield… The UAE and the US fight hand in hand against AQAP in Yemen, just as we did against the Taliban and Al Qaida in Afghanistan, Al Shabab in Somalia and Daesh in Syria,” Al Otaiba wrote. “For now, the priority must be ending the war in Yemen. The UAE believes a political process offers the only lasting solution and strongly supports the efforts of … Griffiths — efforts that Al Houthis rejected just days ago by skipping scheduled talks in Geneva.”