UNITED STATES (VOP TODAY NEWS) — The two parties to the war in Yemen agreed to begin withdrawing troops from the main port of Hodeidah under a UN-sponsored deal following a diplomatic effort over weeks to salvage the faltering deal over who should control the coastal city.
The Houthi group allied to Iran and the Saudi-backed government agreed during talks in December to withdraw troops by January 7 from Hodeidah under a truce deal aimed at preventing a full-scale attack on the port and paving the way for negotiations to end the four-year war. Hodeidah is the lifeline of millions of Yemenis facing famine.
“The two sides reached agreement on the first phase of the mutual redeployment of troops,” a statement issued by the UN spokesman’s office said. The statement gave no details on what was agreed upon.
The first phase envisages the withdrawal of the Houthis from the ports of Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Issa, offset by the withdrawal of the Saudi-led coalition forces from the eastern outskirts of the city, where battles raged before a cease-fire took effect on December 18.
Mohammed al-Houthi, head of the Revolutionary Committee of the al-Houthi group, said Houthi forces would withdraw from the “Salif and Ras Issa ports five kilometers” while government forces “retreated to the east of the Red Sea Mills with one kilo.”
The Houthis control Hodeidah, the main entry point for most aid to Yemen and its commercial imports, while other Yemeni forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition are on their sides.
The United Nations statement said the two sides also agreed “in principle” to the second phase, which requires the full redeployment of the forces of both parties in the province of Hodeidah.
Two sources involved in the negotiations, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the discussions, said the two sides had yet to agree on a timetable for withdrawal or on a mechanism for local forces to take responsibility for port and city security.
“The United Nations is still looking at how to narrow the gap between the two sides on how to select the forces that will control the city,” a source told Reuters.
The other source said the parties had seven to 10 days to decide on where to redeploy their troops, adding that Houthi fighters could withdraw up to 20 kilometers from the port.
– Humanitarian corridors –
The dispute over control of Hodeidah has led to delays in opening humanitarian corridors to reach 10 million Yemenis facing hunger.
A source at the United Nations told Reuters that the two sides agreed during the first phase to reopen the main roads linking Hodeidah to the capital, Sana’a, which is controlled by the Houthis and in Taiz, the third largest city in Yemen.
The source said they also agreed to provide access to the Red Sea Mills Company, which has about 50,000 tons of WFP grains sufficient to feed 3.7 million people for a month. Access to the site has been cut since September because of the fighting.
“Through the implementation of the first phase of the redeployment agreement in Hodeidah, grain will be transferred from the Red Sea mills and the passage of aid within 11 days,” Houthi said on Twitter.
The truce in Hodeidah is largely strong but there are still skirmishes in hot spots on the outskirts of the city.
“One of the problems associated with this process so far is political agreements on how to make progress, and then nothing happens on the ground,” said Elizabeth Dickinson, an analyst at the International Crisis Group.
“We now have in theory this agreement to move forward, we need to see someone moving on the ground.”
Hodeidah became the focus of the war last year when the coalition launched two attacks to control the port and weaken the Houthis by cutting off their main supply line.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are leading the Sunni-Arab alliance, which entered the war in 2015, to try to restore the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power after the ousted Houthis in late 2014.
The conflict is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis deny they receive help from Tehran and say they revolt against corruption.
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