UNITED NATIONS - The new U.N. envoy for Yemen warned Tuesday that reports of a possible military operation around a major urban center and a key seaport could ruin any hopes of ending that country’s civil war.
“We also hear unconfirmed reports that movements of forces in Yemen are on the increase and that the terrible prospect of intensive military operations in al-Hodeida, long heralded, may be soon forthcoming,” Martin Griffiths told council members.
The U.N. has previously warned that the Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition were preparing an offensive on Hodeida seaport to stop Iranian-backed Houthi rebels from using it to smuggle arms and ammunition into the country.
WATCH: UN Yemen Envoy Warns of Possible Military Operation Around Hodeida
“Our concern is that any of these developments may in a stroke, take peace off the table,” Griffiths told the U.N. Security Council in his first briefing since taking up the post as envoy last month. “I am convinced that there is a real danger of this. We all need urgently and creatively to find ways to diminish the chances of these game-changing events, upsetting and derailing the hopes of the great majority of Yemenis,” he said.
Hodeida is Yemen’s fourth largest city and is densely populated. Its port is a key lifeline, handling nearly 80 percent of the country’s food imports. The Saudi-led coalition briefly blockaded the port last year
Yemen’s U.N. ambassador, Khaled Alyemany, said the government has no intention to advance on Hodeida.
“We know that advancing over Hodeida, a heavily populated area, it will be too much,” Alyemany said in response to reporters’ questions. “We understand as a government that it is not time. It is not appropriate.”
He said the government supports Griffith’s push for fresh peace talks.
Griffiths told council members that he plans to present them with a framework for negotiations within the next two months to end the three-year long conflict.
“A political solution to bring an end to this war is available,” Griffiths said. “Its outlines are no secret: the end of fighting, withdrawal of forces and handover of heavy weapons in key locations, together with an agreement on the establishment of an inclusive government.”
The conflict has caused the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. More than 22 million Yemenis — three quarters of the population — require humanitarian assistance. The threat of famine looms over millions, and the country is at risk for another cholera outbreak. Last year's epidemic struck more than 1 million people.
Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition and the United States accuse Iran of supporting the Houthi rebels.
“To achieve enduring peace in Yemen, Iran must stop its interference and its violations of the arms embargo this council imposed,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley told council members. She urged the council to take action to stop the flow of arms to the Houthis.
“The Houthis must realize that if they continue to use banned weapons in war, the international community will be united in condemning them,” Haley said.