US warns United Arab Emirates against assault on Yemeni port Al Hudaydah

The UAE is considering attacking Al Hudaydah. (Reuters pic)

WASHINGTON: The United States has warned its close ally the United Arab Emirates not to launch an assault on Yemen’s port city of Al Hudaydah, which United Nations experts fear could precipitate a new humanitarian crisis, US officials said on Tuesday.

The warning was issued as UAE-backed Yemeni forces moved within 10 kilometres of the Red Sea port, a lifeline for humanitarian supplies for the country’s war-wracked populace. The port is controlled by Yemen’s Houthis.

UN officials have warned that an assault on Al Hudaydah, which has a population of about 600,000, would cause a humanitarian calamity. A UN contingency plan projects that in the worst-case scenario of a prolonged siege, tens of thousands could die.

“We’ve been quite clear that we want to engage on the political track,” a Western official said on condition of anonymity, adding that UN envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths “now has the best chance of anyone in quite some time of getting it moving.”

“This is a point that we’ve made at the top level,” the official added. “The Saudis and Emiratis have made clear that they would not move without a joint understanding from their friends and partners of what the next steps are – what the day after will be – if there were an assault (there).”

US officials met at the White House on Tuesday to discuss the crisis, two sources with knowledge of the meeting said. It was unclear whether any decisions were reached.

A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said Washington opposed any effort by Emirati and Yemeni troops it backs to seize the city.

“The United States has been clear and consistent that we will not support actions that destroy key infrastructure or that are likely to exacerbate the dire humanitarian situation that has expanded in this stalemated conflict,” said the spokesperson, who was not authorised to speak publicly about the matter and asked not to be named.

“We expect all parties to abide by the Law of Armed Conflict and avoid targeting civilians or commercial infrastructure,” the spokesperson said.

The United States and UAE are close economic and security allies, working together against militant groups in Yemen and elsewhere.

Any direct American support to an Emirati ground offensive against Al Hudaydah would mark a major departure from US policy toward Yemen, which has sought to focus US military activity against al Qaeda-affiliated militants.

The United States also has repeatedly urged the Saudi-led coalition, both under President Donald Trump and his predecessor, Barack Obama, to prevent civilian casualties.

Critics of Washington have said, however, that its refuelling of Saudi-led coalition jets, arms sale,s and limited US intelligence support make it complicit in civilian casualties caused by the coalition.

Yemeni political sources said on Monday that UN envoy Griffiths was in the capital, Sana’a, to broker a deal to avert a possible assault on Al Hudaydah, under which the United Nations would take control of the port.