SANAA, Yemen — The U.N. special envoy to Yemen visited on Friday the Red Sea port city of Hodeida in efforts to halt hostilities between a Saudi-led coalition and Yemen's Shiite rebels there and lay the groundwork for restarting peace talks, officials said.
Martin Griffiths met with several rebel officials during his short visit to Hodeida, a vital access point for aid to Yemen' population. The coalition backing Yemen's internationally recognized government has been pushing to retake the city from the rebels since the summer. Its offensive has drawn wide criticism from international aid groups who fear a protracted fight could force a shutdown of the port and potentially tip millions into starvation.
In a Friday statement, Griffiths hailed calls to end the fighting in Hodeida and said it's an essential step to protect the lives of civilians and build confidence among the parties. Western countries including the U.S. and U.K., major arms suppliers to the Saudi coalition, have recently called for a cease-fire in Yemen and the launch of U.N.-led political talks to end the Saudi-Iran proxy war.
The U.N. envoy also said his Thursday meeting with rebel leader Abdul-Malek al-Houthi in the rebel-held capital, Sanaa, tackled possible U.N. contribution to keeping peace in Hodeida and managing the port.
"I am here to tell you today that we have agreed that the UN should now pursue actively and urgently detailed negotiations for a leading UN role in the Port and more broadly," he said in the statement.
Griffiths, who was accompanied by U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator Lise Grande and the WFP chief for Yemen, Stephen Anderson, concluded the visit in a few hours before heading back to Sanaa, the officials said. The spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to brief reporters.
Talks to end Yemen's three-year war pitting the Saudi-led coalition and rival Iran-aligned rebels, known as Houthis, are expected in December in Sweden. Griffiths has said both sides have agreed to attend peace talks. His latest effort to revive peace talks in September fell through after the Houthis didn't attend.
Yemen's ruinous civil war has killed over 10,000 people, badly damaging Yemen's infrastructure and crippling its health system. International aid group Save The Children has said that an estimated 85,000 Yemeni children under the age of five may have died of hunger and disease since the outbreak of the war in 2015.