Hodeidah ceasefire deal clinched but Yemen peace not there yet
LONDON - UN-backed peace talks between Yemen’s warring parties ended with handshakes, not signatures, but an unexpected ceasefire over the strategically important port of Hodeidah raised hopes for peace and important confidence-building measures ahead of talks regarding a political framework agreement.
“The agreement means a lot. This can be a starting point for peace,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at a news conference. “[This] gives us the hope that this process will now be moving step by step and that we’ll be able to overcome all the obstacles that we face.”
The two sides agreed on a ceasefire in the rebel-held Red Sea city of Hodeidah and its three key ports, with both sides agreeing to withdraw combatants within two weeks and designate the area a neutral zone.
UN Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths told the UN Security Council on December 14 that a “robust and competent monitoring regime” for implementation of the redeployment agreement is “not just essential — it is urgently needed.”
Hodeidah is the main entry point for food and other aid for Yemen. There are plans to establish humanitarian corridors to ensure the provision of aid across the country.
In addition to providing humanitarian relief, the internationally recognised government of Yemen led by President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi also hopes the agreement over Hodeidah will prevent the Houthis from being resupplied with arms and ammunition via the port.
The Hadi government, along with the Saudi-led coalition backing it, accused the Iran-backed Houthis of receiving military supplies from Tehran through Hodeidah. A confidential UN report revealed that coalition forces discovered two Iran-made missile launchers in Yemen. Tehran has denied providing military support for the Houthis.
Warring sides reached a “mutual understanding” on Yemen’s third city of Taiz, Griffiths said, although details were scarce. Both sides agreed to a prisoner swap, with thousands of detainees and prisoners to be exchanged in another measure aimed to build confidence between the two sides ahead of further talks in January.
An agreement to reopen the Sana’a airport for domestic flights faltered, as did consultations over attempts to improve Yemen’s economy, although an agreement was made to shore up the country’s central bank.
The deal comes as the culmination of pressure against the Houthis by the Saudi-led coalition, as well as broader pressure from regional and Western allies, especially the United States, against the Houthis’ main backer, Iran. Hodeidah had been encircled by coalition forces preparing a major offensive before the talks were convened in Rimbo, Sweden.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called it a “crucial first step,” while Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz expressed “support for a political solution” to the Yemen war.
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash thanked coalition forces, including 5,000 Emirati soldiers, for their efforts to liberate Hodeidah. “The coalition’s fundamental argument that military pressure will bring political results and that Hodeidah is critical to the process has proven right,” he posted on Twitter.
Attention turns to how the Hodeidah ceasefire unfolds and the next round of talks on reaching a political framework to end the conflict.
Analysts and officials welcomed the Hodeidah ceasefire, saying it was both more than they had expected but also much less than will be required if an overall solution is to be found.
“This is a minor breakthrough. They have been able to achieve more than anyone expected,” Elizabeth Dickinson, a senior analyst for the Arabian Peninsula at the International Crisis Group, told Reuters.
“The road ahead remains bumpy but this significant breakthrough will make peace possible,” Gargash said. “The day after Sweden brings hope to Yemen. A first and important step towards a sustainable political outcome. We will continue to support the political and humanitarian process as well as plans for reconstruction.”
The United States also welcomed the Hodeidah ceasefire. “The work ahead will not be easy but we have seen what many considered improbable begin to take shape,” Pompeo said in a statement. “Peace is possible. The end of these consultations can be the beginning of a new chapter for Yemen.”