Plans to hold Yemen peace talks have been pushed back to the end of the year, the United Nations has admitted, as fierce fighting over the strategic port city of Hodeidah has intensified.

The United States had set a deadline of 30 days for a ceasefire between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and a Saudi Arabia-led coalition, that have been warring over the country since 2015.

With the UN and UK, the US hoped talks would put an end to the ruinous war that has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, in terms of numbers, and which has pushed the impoverished country to the brink of famine.  

However, Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the UN, said late on Thursday the UN’s Yemen envoy will no longer aim to convene the country’s warring parties by the end the month, and will instead push for the end of the year.

 “There’s always different challenges to bringing the parties together,” Mr Haq said. “What we’re trying to do is clear up any issues so that we can get a successful round of talks as soon as possible.”

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have been bombing Yemen since the spring of 2015 and want to reinstate President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who was ousted by the Houthis when they swept to control of the country in late 2014.

The fighting has left 23 million people – two-thirds of the population – relying on aid to survive, and could see as many as 13 million people die from famine, according to UN figures.

The last attempt to hold peace talks collapsed in September after just three days, when the Houthi delegation failed to attend.

Martin Griffiths, the UN envoy to Yemen due to brief the security council next week, said in a statement last week, he hoped to bring the parties to the negotiating table within a month.

But fighting around the strategic Red Sea city of Hodeidah has put an end to any hopes of negotiations.

More than 150 people have been killed and half a million have fled the area since the latest offensive on the port began. The UN warned this week the city’s main hospital al-Thawra was just metres from the front line, and starving children being treated there were at risk of being killed.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said on Friday the city was at risk of being “obliterated” and labelled the lack of action from the UK and US “utterly unconscionable”. 

The NRC reported at least 18 civilians have been killed and another 17 injured by airstrikes, artillery shelling and landmines this week alone, following days of massive strikes and the shelling of farms, factories, trucks, houses and markets across the governorate.  

“The humanitarian cost of this war is almost $3 billion this year alone, but the cost to humanity completely inestimable,” the group said.

“Senseless attacks on civilians, evidence of a starving population, and desperate pleas from humanitarian witnesses, have done little more than elicit condolences from an international community that could have stepped on the brakes long ago. The lack of action from the United States and the United Kingdom, in particular, is utterly unconscionable,” it added.

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