Saudi-led coalition air strikes in Yemen down 80%: U.N. envoy

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - United Nations Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths told the U.N. Security Council on Friday that the number of air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition battling Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen has dropped nearly 80% in the last two weeks.

The coalition, which intervened in the war in 2015 to try to restore the ousted Sanaa government, has carried out thousands of air strikes that have killed thousands of civilians at hospitals, schools and markets, drawing international criticism.

De-escalation of hostilities is a major aspect of informal talks that have been going on between Saudi Arabia and Houthi officials on a ceasefire in Yemen since September.

"In what is perhaps an even more important sign that something is changing in Yemen..., in the last two weeks the rate has dramatically reduced: there were almost 80% fewer air strikes nationwide than in the two weeks prior," Griffiths told the Security Council by videoconference from his Amman office.

He added that there had been "entire 48-hour periods without air strikes" for the first time since the conflict began in 2014, when the Houthi movement ousted the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from power in Sanaa.

The talks began after the Houthis offered to halt cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities if the Saudi-led coalition ended air strikes on Yemen.

"We call this de-escalation, a reduction in the tempo of the war, and perhaps a move towards an overall ceasefire in Yemen that...many members of this Council have been calling for a very long time," Griffiths said by a video conference from Amman, where his office is based.

The U.N. diplomat added that skirmishes between the warring parties in the port city of Hodeidah, where the two sides agreed on a ceasefire last year, have been reduced by 80 pct after the deployment of U.N. monitors in recent weeks.

The war has killed more than 100,000 people and pushed millions to the brink of famine, according the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, a non-governmental organization.

The United Nations hopes to revive full-fledged negotiations between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and the Houthis to end what is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Griffiths has said he hopes for a resolution to the conflict in the first few months of 2020.



(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)