DUBAI, March 24 (Reuters) – The Saudi-led coalition has cleared four fuel ships to dock at Yemen’s Red Sea port of Hodeidah, two sources familiar with the matter said, after Yemen’s internationally recognised government said on Wednesday it had approved entry of some vessels.
The move came after the Iran-aligned Houthi group, which has been battling the coalition for six years and controls most large urban centres in Yemen, said it would only agree to a Saudi ceasefire proposal if an air and sea blockade were lifted.
Four vessels, including two carrying a total of 45,000 tonnes of gas oil, a ship loaded with 5,000 tonnes of liquefied petroleum gas and a fourth tanker with 22,700 tonnes of fuel oil have received clearance from the coalition, the sources said.
As of Wednesday morning, the four vessels had not yet begun moving towards Hodeidah port, which is controlled by the Houthis.
Yemen’s foreign ministry said it had allowed a number of fuel vessels to enter Hodeidah to ease the humanitarian situation but provided no further details.
The Houthis’ chief negotiator, Mohammed Abdulsalam, said: “The provision of fuel, food, medical and basic goods is a humanitarian and legal right for the Yemeni people. We do not accept any military or political conditions for receiving them.”
The United States, which last month declared a halt to American support for the Saudi-led military campaign, welcomed the news that the ships had been cleared to enter Hodeidah.
“The free flow of fuel and other essential goods into and throughout Yemen is critical to support the delivery of humanitarian assistance and other essential activities,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
The blockade of Yemeni ports has been one of the main causes of the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. The coalition and some aid groups have accused the Houthis of obstructing aid efforts.
Coalition warships off Hodeidah were holding up 14 fuel tankers as of March 23 even though they had secured U.N clearance, United Nations data showed. Some have been waiting six months to dock.
Four other ships left without docking after waiting months.
Saudi Arabia, which leads a coalition that has been fighting the Houthis since 2015, offered the group on Monday a ceasefire deal which would also include reopening Sanaa airport and allow fuel and food imports through Hodeidah port.
The Houthis said the Saudi offer fell short of their demand for a complete lifting of the air and sea blockade, but that the group would continue to talk to the kingdom, the United States and mediator Oman in pursuit of a peace deal.
On Tuesday the Houthis launched a drone attack on an airport in southern Saudi Arabia.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Mohammed Ghobari Editing by Gareth Jones and Cynthia Osterman)