Yemen’s warring parties reach initial agreement on Hodeida pullout

Yemen’s warring parties reach initial agreement on Hodeida pullout
Both the Iran-linked Houthis and Saudi-backed government forces have agreed to withdraw from the crucial port of Hodeida, following more than a month of failures to maintain a ceasefire.
2 min read
18 February, 2019
Access to aid throughout Yemen has been impeded by ongoing fighting in Hodeida [AFP]

Yemen's warring parties have agreed to begin withdrawing from Hodeida under a UN-sponsored deal, the United Nations said on Monday, after weeks of failed attempts to implement a ceasefire in the Red Sea port city.

The Iran-linked Houthis and the Saudi-backed government agreed in December to withdraw troops from Hodeida by January 7, a date that came and went without change. Both sides have accused each other of repeatedly breaching the ceasefire.

The ongoing disagreement over a withdrawal from the port has impeded the opening of humanitarian corridors needed to feed 14 million Yemenis on the brink of famine. More than 85,000 have died from starvation.

"The parties reached an agreement on Phase 1 of the mutual redeployment of forces," the UN spokesman's office said in a statement.

Under "Phase 1", the Houthis will withdraw from the ports of Hodeida, Saleef and Ras Isa. Saudi-led coalition forces will then retreat from the eastern outskirts of Hodeida. Hodeida is the main entry point for most of Yemen's commercial and aid imports, and Saleef and Ras Isa are crucial ports for grain and oil.

Read more: Hodeida civilians despair as Yemen's ceasefire fails

The two sides would also reopen roads linking Hodeida to Taiz and the Houthi-held capital, Sanaa, a UN source told Reuters. They would also enable access to Red Sea Mills, a site cut off since September due to fighting which holds enough World Food Programme grain to feed 3.7 million people for a month.

The UN said the warring parties had also agreed "in principle" on "Phase 2", which would involve the full redeployment of both sides' forces in Hodeida province.

Neither side has yet to agree on a timeline for withdrawal, or on how local forces would take control of security at the ports, unnamed sources involved in the negotiations told Reuters.

"The UN is still discussing how to reduce the gap between the two sides on how to choose the forces that will control the city," one source said.

For Yemenis, it may be hard to believe promises of a complete withdrawal after previous attempts have failed.

"Citizens are becoming very desperate for a solution," Manal, a Yemeni activist in Hodeida told The New Arab.

"Countless lives are still heavily impacted by the ongoing fighting, despite promises that the fighting would be brought to a conclusion."