by Yara Bayoumy (Reuters) The United Nations does not advocate a military operation in and around Yemen's Hodeidah port where more than 70 percent of Yemen's food imports and humanitarian aid is delivered, the U.N. special envoy to Yemen said on Friday.
Yemen has been divided by two years of civil war that pits the Iran-allied Houthi group against a Western-backed Sunni Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia that is carrying out air strikes. At least 10,000 people have been killed in the fighting.
The Red Sea port near the Bab al-Mandab strait is under the control of Yemen's armed Houthi movement. The Bab al-Mandab is a waterway through which nearly 4 million barrels of oil are shipped daily.
The United States is considering deepening its role in Yemen's conflict by more directly aiding the Saudi-led coalition and the proposed support could allow America to assist an eventual push on Hodeidah.
The envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, told a panel of the Middle East Institute in Washington that he was "extremely concerned" about the possibility of military action at Hodeidah soon.
"We as the United Nations are advocating that no military operations should be undertaken in Hodeidah," he said.
The previous U.S. administration of Barack Obama was wary of operations involving the port and last year rejected a proposal to assist its Gulf allies in a push to take control of it.
Ahmed said that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the principal fighting forces in the coalition, have valid concerns about "the continued import of arms flowing through Hodeidah and illegal taxation of commercial imports by the Houthis." He warned that any military action in the area would "need to take into account the need to avoid any further deterioration in the humanitarian situation."
The World Food Programme said earlier this month that the governorates of Taiz and Hodeidah risked slipping into famine if they did not receive more aid. The International Rescue Committee has said any attack targeting the port would disrupt port facilities and "have a catastrophic impact on the people of Yemen."
Yemen's internationally-backed government argues the Houthis' control of Hodeidah threatens international maritime navigation.
"Our government recognizes the significance of Hodeidah's port for aid delivery, and therefore rooting out the Houthis will eliminate their destructive meddling in aid distribution," Yemen's ambassador to the United States, Ahmed Awad Binmubarak, wrote in an op-ed in Newsweek on March 20.
(Reporting by Yara Bayoumy; editing by Grant McCool)
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