Yemeni pro-government forces cheer as they ride in the back of a pickup truck mounted with a machine gun in an industrial district in the eastern outskirts of the port city of Hodeida on November 18. Photo: AFP

A United Nations envoy met with Yemen’s rebel chief on Thursday to work out the details of peace talks expected to be held in December, a day before a planned visit to the war-torn port city of Hodeida.

Martin Griffiths, who arrived in the rebel-held capital Sanaa on Wednesday, is pushing for talks early next month in Sweden to end years of conflict in the famine-stricken Arab republic.

The diplomat’s visit to Hodeida on Friday is aimed at encouraging Iran-aligned Houthi rebels and government forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition to refrain from engaging in hostilities in advance of negotiations in Stockholm, according to a UN source.

The conflict, which escalated when the Saudi-led alliance intervened in 2015, has killed thousands and left as many as 14 million Yemenis at risk of starvation, according to UN agencies.

Both sides have in the past week expressed support for the envoy’s mission to hold discussions, and violence in the Red Sea city of Hodeida has become less intense.

The port city is of vital importance as the entry point for nearly all of the country’s imports and humanitarian aid.

During their meeting, Griffiths and Yemeni rebel chief Abdul-Malik al-Houthi addressed “what can facilitate new discussions in December,” rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdelsalam said on Twitter.

Abdelsalam said that included “procedures needed to transport injured and sick for treatment abroad and bring them back,” a key sticking point during a previous failed attempt at negotiations in September.

Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, head of the rebels’ Higher Revolutionary Committee and an influential political figure, said the rebels were ready for peace.

“We support peace. We are ready for peace if that is what they [the Saudi-led coalition] want,” he said after also meeting Griffiths.

– With reporting from Agence France-Presse