A Yemeni doctor inspects a child suffering from severe malnutrition at a hospital in the northern district of Abs in Yemen's northwestern Hajjah province (AFP)
The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has agreed to allow some wounded Houthi rebels to be evacuated, following a visit to the region by British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, his office said Tuesday.
The issue has proved a key stumbling block in previous peace talks and it is hoped the evacuations could now pave the way for fresh negotiations, Britain's foreign ministry said in a statement.
"The Saudi-led coalition have agreed to the evacuation of wounded Houthis from Yemen, one of the key stumbling blocks to the UN Geneva talks in September," it added.
"Coalition forces will now permit the UN to oversee a Houthi medical evacuation, including up to 50 wounded fighters, to Oman ahead of another proposed round of peace talks in Sweden later this month."
During a visit to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi on Monday, Hunt met Saudi Arabia's King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as leaders from the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
He was in the region seeking to boost support for UN efforts to end the nearly four-year conflict in Yemen, and to press the Gulf kingdom over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Diplomacy and negotiation remain the only path to ending the conflict and I am encouraged that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have shown their support for the UN peace process, led by Special Envoy Martin Griffiths
– Jeremy Hunt, UK Foreign Secretary
"In my meetings we have made progress in removing the largest stumbling block to previous proposed rounds of peace talks, and set out a credible path to a de-escalation of military activity," Hunt said following the trip.
"I leave the region encouraged by these signs of progress, and I am determined to do what it takes to convert this into a lasting peace for the people of Yemen."
Britain and the United States are major suppliers of arms to Saudi Arabia, which leads a military coalition backing the Yemen government in its fight against Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Britain is seeking support among regional partners for new action at the UN Security Council for peace talks in Yemen, where at least 150 people were killed in 24 hours of clashes in Yemen's Hodeidah, medics and military sources said on Monday.
"Diplomacy and negotiation remain the only path to ending the conflict and I am encouraged that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have shown their support for the UN peace process, led by Special Envoy Martin Griffiths," Hunt added.
"I will continue talking to partners about the best way for the Security Council to support the UN special envoy's efforts on the political process and improve the humanitarian situation."
Griffiths is due to brief the Security Council on the situation in Yemen on 16 November.
Port functioning 'normally'
A building in the port of Hodeida, a city in western Yemen controlled by Houthi rebels and targeted by a loyalist offensive backed by Saudi Arabia, was hit by an attack on Monday, it was reported on Tuesday.
This is the first bombing of this strategic port since the intensification of the offensive on the city of Hodeida in early November.
The port of Hodeida is the entry point for more than three-quarters of imports and international humanitarian aid to Yemen, a country on the brink of famine.
The Houthis accused the coalition, via their al-Massirah TV channel, of conducting two air strikes that targeted the eastern entrance to the port.
Asked by AFP, coalition spokesman Saudi Colonel Turki al-Maliki said he was going to check.
The deputy director of the port, Yehya Charafeddine, told AFP on Tuesday that the port's main entrance "had been the target of air raids […] but the port is functioning normally". He reported three wounded guards.
But four other port employees told AFP on condition of anonymity that a rebel commander, along with three of his guards, had been killed in Monday's bombing. Another rebel commander was also wounded, along with three of his guards, the sources added.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Monday against the "catastrophic" consequences of a possible destruction of the port of Hodeida.