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Houthi rebels refuse to withdraw from Yemen's Hodeida during landmark UN talks Open in fullscreen

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Houthi rebels refuse to withdraw from Yemen's Hodeida during landmark UN talks

The Sweden talks are the first meeting between the warring parties since 2016. [Getty]

Date of publication: 7 December, 2018

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Houthi rebels have refused to hand over Hodeida to the rival government and rebuffed demands to reopen Sanaa international airport as a hub for domestic flights.
Yemen's Houthi rebels will not hand over the key port of Hodeida to the internationally recognised government, a Houthi representative said on Friday, as the two parties met for UN-brokered talks in Sweden. 

"This is not on the table," Abdulmalik al-Ajri, a member of the rebel delegation, told AFP after the Yemeni government said it was seeking a full Houthi withdrawal from the flashpoint port city.

The Iran-backed rebels, locked in a war with President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and his allies in a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia, control the Red Sea city of Hodeida, a conduit for 90 percent of food imports.

The Saudi-led coalition has for months led an offensive to retake Hodeida

The battle has sparked fears for more than 150,000 civilians trapped in the city. Saudi Arabia and its allies accuse the rebels of smuggling arms from Iran through Hodeida as well as the defunct Sanaa international airport, a charge Tehran denies. 

In-depth: Saudi-led offensive on Hodeida 'will starve whole of Yemen'

UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths, who has pushed for months for the Yemen talks, urged both parties to spare Hodeida as the talks opened on Thursday. 

[Click to enlarge]

Ajri also rebuffed a government suggestion that the defunct Sanaa international airport be reopened as a hub for domestic flights. 

"Sanaa airport is an international airport," Ajri said, slamming government-imposed restrictions on the airport as "arbitrary". 

The airport was shut down in the aftermath of 2014, when the Houthis overran the capital and a string of Yemeni ports, triggering the intervention of the Saudi-led alliance the following year. 

Saudi Arabia and its allies have targeted the airport and control Yemeni airspace. 

The Sweden talks, which opened on Thursday, are the first meeting between the warring parties since 2016, when more than three months of negotiations in Kuwait failed to yield a breakthrough in the war.  

The Yemen war has triggered what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis and pushed the impoverished country to the brink of famine, with 14 million people facing imminent mass starvation.

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