As casualties mount in what the United Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, the Trump administration says Saudi Arabia and UAE are doing enough to protect civilians in their military campaign in Yemen.
Heavy fighting resumed on the outskirts of Yemen's main port city of Hudaida and the Saudi-led military coalition resumed air strikes on Wednesday in support of Yemeni allied forces seeking to capture the Red Sea port city. Also on Wednesday, the Trump administration said it determined that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are doing enough to protect civilians in their military campaign in Yemen.
The offensive restarted after a two-month break, following the failure of inter-Yemeni peace talks sponsored by the United Nations last week in Geneva.
Yemeni military forces, allied with a Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis, said the battles outside Hudaida began on Monday but intensified on Wednesday. Coalition-backed troops are trying to take control of the main route between Hudaida and Sanaa in order to cut off supplies to the capital, which is also held by the Iranian-aligned Houthi group, they said.
The renewed skirmishes and Saudi air strikes could put further pressure on UN special envoy Martin Griffiths, who vowed to press ahead with diplomacy after an attempt to hold peace talks in Geneva was abandoned on Saturday when the Houthi movement's delegation failed to show up.
The Western-backed alliance intervened in Yemen's war in 2015 to restore the internationally recognised government of Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Coalition forces retook much of the south before the war, widely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, bogged down.
The coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive to wrest control of Hudaida in June in the largest battle of the conflict but called it off after little gains to give peace talks a chance.
"The Houthi NO SHOW at the Geneva peace process is further proof that the liberation of Hodeida is what is needed to bring them to their senses & constructively engage in the political process," UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in a Twitter post.
Yemen's lifeline under attack
It was not clear if the renewed fighting signalled a resumption of the offensive on the port city, which is a lifeline for millions of Yemenis.
The United Nations fears an attack on Hudaida, the entry point for the bulk of Yemen's commercial imports and aid supplies, could trigger a famine in the impoverished state where an estimated 8.4 million people are facing starvation.
Griffiths is heading to Oman on Wednesday to meet Houthi leaders, and then to the Houthi-held capital Sanaa, his spokeswoman Hoda El Turk said.
"We want to go to Muscat to find out ... how do we arrange things in a different way so that both parties can sit down together next time around," Griffiths told reporters in Geneva on Saturday.
Houthi leader Abdul Malik al Houthi accused the coalition of blocking his movement's team from travelling to the peace talks. The foreign minister of Hadi's government, Khaled al Yamani, accused the Houthis of "trying to sabotage the negotiations."
The Yemen war has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than 2 million, according to the United Nations.
'Saudi, UAE acting to reduce risks to civilians in Yemen'
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday he has "certified" that coalition partners Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are acting to reduce risks to civilians from their military operations in Yemen.
TRT World's Lionel Donovan reports from Washington DC about US Secretary of State Pompeo bolstering Saudi and UAE military operations in Yemen.
Pompeo said he delivered the certification on Tuesday to Congress, as required by US law to continue American refuelling of Saudi and UAE warplanes in the conflict, which has led to the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
In a statement, Pompeo said both countries "are undertaking demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure resulting from military operations of these governments."
The United Nations estimates that as many as 10,000 people have died in the conflict, most of them civilians, since the Saudi-led coalition launched military operations in 2015.
US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis issued a separate statement endorsing the certification, which he said has been illustrated by coalition support for United Nations-led efforts to end the conflict.
"The Trump administration has been clear that ending the conflict in Yemen is a national security priority," Pompeo added in his statement.
He said Washington would work closely with the coalition to ensure Saudi and UAE support for UN peace efforts and to allow unimpeded access for commercial and humanitarian relief supplies to reach Yemenis.