Truce in Yemen to start amid new clashes
Government and Houthi rebels agree to ceasefire at Red Sea port of Hodeida
Dubai —A ceasefire in Yemen’s battleground port city of Hodeida and its surroundings will start on Tuesday, officials say, after renewed fighting threatened the hard-won accord struck in Sweden.
The deal announced on Thursday between Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and the Houthi rebels included an immediate ceasefire in Hodeida, whose Red Sea port serves as a crucial gateway for humanitarian aid.
A UN official, who requested anonymity, said the delay to the halt in hostilities until midnight on Monday was necessary for “operational reasons”.
Yemen foreign minister Khaled al-Yamani also told state-run television that the ceasefire would begin at midnight on Monday.
An official in the Saudi-led coalition confirmed the timing, adding that details on implementing the truce deal “were not clear at the beginning”.
The coalition “has no intention of violating the agreement ... unless the Houthis violate and dishonour it,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Residents in Hodeida and the surrounding areas have reported fierce fighting and air strikes in recent days, as clashes continued between Saudi-backed government forces and the Iran-aligned Houthis.
At least 29 fighters, including 22 Houthis rebels, were killed on Saturday night in Hodeida province, a pro-government military source said. Two Hodeida residents said they could hear intermittent clashes to the east and south of the city on Monday.
A pro-government military official said that there were sporadic clashes, adding that a fire erupted in one of the factories in the east of the city due to strikes on Sunday night.
Doctors Without Borders voiced alarm about the continuous fighting in Hodeida. The medical aid group said its teams on the ground were treating victims of gunshots, shelling and air strikes, urging warring parties “to respect the presence of civilians and health infrastructures”.
UN envoy Martin Griffiths said on Sunday that the UN was working with both sides to ensure the ceasefire accord was implemented timely and properly.
The truce is supposed to be followed by the withdrawal of fighters from Hodeida.
A prisoner swap involving 15,000 detainees is planned and a mutual understanding was reached to facilitate aid deliveries to Yemen’s third city Taiz, under the control of loyalists but besieged by rebels.
The two sides also agreed to meet again in late January for more talks to define the framework for negotiations on a comprehensive peace settlement.
The coalition official said the agreement stipulated the rebels should withdraw from all ports in Hodeida by midnight on December 31 and that both pro-government forces and Houthis pull out of the city completely by midnight on January 7.
Impoverished Yemen has been mired in fighting between the Huthi rebels and troops loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi since 2014.
The war escalated in 2015 when a Saudi-led military coalition stepped in on the government’s side. The conflict has since killed nearly 10,000 people, according to the World Health Organisation. But some rights groups believe the toll to be far higher.
UN chief Antonio Guterres warned that much worse lay in store for the impoverished country in 2019 unless its warring parties strike a peace deal and head off a humanitarian crisis. Severe food shortages mean that a high number of Yemenis have been dying in very dramatic circumstances, he told a news conference in Doha.
Diplomats said Guterres may propose a surveillance mechanism comprising 30 to 40 observers.