SANAA, Yemen's Houthi rebels warned of cutting off the Red Sea shipping line if the Saudi-led coalition forces keep advancing towards the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah, Houthi-controlled Saba news agency reported Wednesday.

"We will block the Red Sea international shipping line in the Red Sea if Saudi-led aggression coalition forces keep advancing towards Hodeidah," Saba quoted Houthi leader Saleh al-Sammad as saying.

The threat was made by al-Sammad, who is the chief of the Houthi governing body, known as the Supreme Political Council, during his meeting with visiting UN deputy envoy Maeen Sharim in Houthi-held capital Sanaa.

The warning was a "deterrent step" that aimed to exert pressure on the Saudi-led coalition, as targeting the Red Sea shipping route could have international economic consequences, according to Saba.

Recently, the ground battles backed by the coalition air strikes have intensified around Hodeidah as the coalition forces are pushing towards the rebel-held port city to recapture it.

The coalition accuses Houthis of smuggling weapons through the Hodeidah port and collecting customs revenues from imported goods to finance the war, which the Houthis have denied.

Hodeidah port city, where 80 per cent of Yemen's food imports arrive, is the only port kept by Houthi rebels after the Saudi-led coalition and the Yemeni government forces recaptured the southern port city of Aden along with other southern governorates in 2016.

Al-Sammad also informed the visiting UN deputy envoy their willingness to enter into peace negotiations, but required the coalition to show goodwill by lifting the all-out blockade, including re-opening Sanaa Airport, and stopping air strikes and ground battles.

"Yemen is ready for peace talks if the Saudi aggression stopped," Saba cited al-Sammad as saying during his conversation with Sharim.

According to Saba, the UN deputy envoy stressed that the solution to Yemen's conflict "must be consensual and based on partnership."

Houthis' threats came two days after they claimed to have shot down a Tornado combat aircraft of the coalition while it was conducting a military operation over the Yemeni northern province of Saada, which borders Saudi Arabia.

The coalition dismissed the Houthi claim, saying the plane crashed due to a technical fault and the two pilots were rescued.

The Yemeni war pits dominant Shiite Houthi rebels against the internationally-recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, which is supported by the Saudi-led Arab coalition.

The coalition intervened in the Yemeni conflict in March 2015 after Houthi fighters captured Sanaa and expelled Hadi and his government.

The war has so far killed more than 10,000 Yemenis, half of them civilians, and displaced over 3 million others, according to UN humanitarian agencies.


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