Hodeidah withdrawal delayed again
LONDON - A scheduled withdrawal of Yemen’s warring factions from the key port city of Hodeidah has been delayed again, after Iran-allied Houthi rebels continued to “obstruct and stall” the agreement, a government representative told the Dubai-based Al Arabiya news channel.
As per the agreement, struck February 17 in Sweden, fighters were to redeploy outside the ports and away from areas central to humanitarian relief efforts.
UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths was originally optimist about the agreement, telling the UN Security Council in a February 19 assessment that he hoped the process would begin in a matter of days.
But on the same day, Al Arabiya reported that Houthis had introduced new conditions in a bid to delay the first phase of the process.
Following a one-day delay on February 24, Al Arabiya said the Houthis had "once again stalled the implementation of phase one of the redeployment in Hodeidah, to an unspecified time."
Houthi forces were due to redeploy at a distance of 5km from the ports of Salif and Ras Issa, while Yemeni government forces would withdraw 1km, and the road to the Red Sea Mills grain storage facility would be reopened, Al Arabiya said.
The same report stressed that the Iran-allied rebel group was “continuing to breach the UN-brokered ceasefire in Hodeidah," and that the Yemeni government was refusing to attend any further peace talks unless the Stockholm agreement was fully implemented.
"The Yemeni government delegation [to earlier UN talks] holds the Houthis responsible for the Hodeidah redeployment not being implemented," UAE-based Sky News Arabia reported, citing Yemeni government sources.
Hodeidah and its strategic ports are a key lifeline for the Yemeni population, which is on the brink of famine after years of devastating conflict.
Despite intermittent fighting, the Hodeidah truce, which first came into effect around mid-December, has largely held. However, a January 7 deadline for warring parties to withdraw from the port was not met due to what the UN envoy to Yemen called a "complex situation on the ground."
The UN is seeking $4.2 billion to provide lifesaving aid to 21.4 million Yemenis this year. Last year, the UN appealed for $3 billion, receiving around 83% of that target sum. The biggest donors were Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are leading the coalition force fighting on behalf of Yemen’s internationally recognised government against the Iran-supported Houthis.
Late on February 25, the Yemeni army announced that with the support of coalition airstrikes, it had made significant progress on the ground in the Baqem district of the Saada province, a major Houthi stronghold.
According to commander of the Azal Brigade, Brigadier Yasser al-Harthy, Yemeni forces carried out a large-scale military operation in the area, liberating large parts of the province, including the Aswad mountains and villages of "Al-Mayd” and "Sohar Sham" west of Baqem, Al Hadath TV reported.
The report highlighted that coalition air raids targeting training camps belonging to the militia north-east of Saada province had been instrumental to their advance on the ground.