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AL-MUKALLA: The Houthis will be held accountable for a “regional catastrophe” if they continue to block access to a decaying oil tanker in the Red Sea, the EU has warned.

The Iran-backed militia is under pressure to allow inspection and maintenance of the Safer tanker, amid reports that parts of it have been eroded by rust. 

The Houthis insist on sharing the proceeds from the sale of the tanker’s cargo – more than a million barrels of oil – and including engineers from China, Russia and Germany in the UN team of experts that would visit the tanker.

“The EU Heads of Mission call on Ansarallah (Houthis) to fully cooperate with the UN by allowing the team of experts to have unhindered access to the vessel and without preconditions or delay,” the EU delegation to Yemen said on Tuesday. “Unless the UN team is provided unhindered access, Ansarallah would be accountable in the event of a regional catastrophe and must therefore act with a sense of urgency and responsibility.”

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The delegation warned that an oil spill would paralyze the port of Hodeidah, where most of the country’s food, fuel and goods pass through, and exacerbate Yemen’s already dire humanitarian situation. “It would heavily affect fisheries in the Red Sea coast as well as the marine ecosystem and may affect maritime trade,” the EU statement added.

The internationally recognized government of Yemen has accused the Houthis of using the decaying tanker as leverage to extract concessions, putting the lives of millions of people at risk and endangering the Red Sea’s entire marine ecosystem.

On Sunday, Information Minister Muammar Al-Aryani told the official news agency Saba that the international community had not been able to convince the Houthis to allow UN experts to board the tanker.

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“For years, the Houthi militia has continued to play with this file, using it to achieve political and financial gains,” the minister said. 

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Earlier this month, a virtual meeting between the UN Yemen envoy’s office and the UN Office for Project Services with the Houthis about access ended in a deadlock after the rebels rejected the request.

On the battlefields, heavy fighting broke out in the northern province of Jouf during the last two days as government forces announced recapturing areas from the Houthis. 

Yemen’s Ministry of Defense and local media reports said that army troops and allied tribesmen seized control of mountains near Al-Khanjer military base, east of Jouf, following a fresh assault on the Houthis.

Arab coalition aircraft targeted Houthi military gatherings and equipment east of Hazen, the provincial capital, preventing the Houthis from launching counterattacks on government forces.

At least two dozen Houthis were killed on Tuesday in heavy fighting in the Al-Makhdara region, west of Marib province. Fighting also claimed the lives of dozens of government troops, including high-ranking officers.

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State media reported that Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his deputy Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmer were mourning Brig. Saleh Al-Farja Al-Shanani, a military commander, who was killed in Jouf. 

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Col. Abdullah Bin Dhaen, the director of Jouf’s Al-Matammah District, was killed on Tuesday during an offensive, Rabia Al-Qurashi, the Yemeni army spokesman in the province, tweeted.

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