Yemen: injured Houthi rebels to be evacuated, raising hope of peace talks

Wounded Houthi fighters wait at Sanaa airport during his evacuation from Yemen

The peace talks are set to resume in Stockholm this week with delegations from the Iran-allied Houthis and the Yemeni government, backed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, reportedly set to be in attendance.

Since then, the conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and left more than eight million facing starvation.

The fate of wounded rebels had been a stumbling block to the start of a previous round of aborted peace talks in September.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), another key backer of the government, said the planned talks offered a "critical opportunity" to end almost four years of war.

Additional momentum towards peace has come from the mounting Western pressure on Saudi Arabia since the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom's Istanbul consulate on 2 October.

The deal was struck by Griffiths, who was in the rebel-held capital Sanaa for meetings already buoyed by the evacuation of the wounded insurgents - a key rebel precondition for the talks.

Yemen has been devastated by a conflict that escalated in early 2015, when the Houthis seized control of much of the west of the country and forced President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to flee overseas.

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The Houthis, who are more adept at guerrilla warfare, hold most population centers including Sanaa and the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions that is now the focus of the war.

World Food Program chief David Beasley said in Geneva that an upcoming food security report would show an increase in severe hunger rates in Yemen - where a child dies every 11 minutes - but not necessarily meet the criteria of starvation.

United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said Tuesday that the Sweden talks are a "critical opportunity".

"A sustainable Yemeni-led political solution offers the best chance of ending the current crisis. A stable state, important for the region, can not coexist with unlawful militias", he said.

Griffiths hopes to reach a deal on reopening Sanaa airport and securing a prisoner swap and a ceasefire in Hodeidah as a foundation for a wider ceasefire, which would include a halt to coalition air strikes that have killed thousands of civilians as well as Houthi missile attacks on Saudi cities.

United Nations aid chief Mark Lowcock warned last week that Yemen was "on the brink of a major catastrophe", following a trip to the war-wracked country. The extent of any Iranian support for the Huthis remains unclear, with some analysts saying its backing for the rebels was ramped up after the Saudi-led coalition began its campaign. The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, a database that tracks violence in Yemen, says around 57,000 people have been reported killed since the beginning of 2016.

"The country with the biggest problem in 2019 is going to be Yemen", he said.

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