Yemeni government, allies calls for swift UN deployment to Hodeidah

Residents reported shelling for nearly one hour on the eastern and southern outskirts of Hodeidah on December 18
Wednesday 19/12/2018
A Yemeni fighter loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni president walks down a street in the town of Khokha in the western province of Hodeidah on December 18, 2018. (AFP)
A Yemeni fighter loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni president walks down a street in the town of Khokha in the western province of Hodeidah on December 18, 2018. (AFP)

LONDON – A hard-won ceasefire in the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah will collapse if the United Nations does not intervene to prevent Iran-backed Houthi rebels from committing violations, the Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen’s internationally recognised government warned.

Residents reported shelling for nearly one hour on the eastern and southern outskirts of Hodeidah on December 18, with increasing fear that complications and lack of trust between the warring sides could prevent implementation of the ceasefire and mutual troop withdrawal agreed to in Sweden earlier in the month.

The Saudi-led coalition, which has been fighting alongside the government since March 2015, complained that Houthi rebels violated the truce repeatedly since it went into effect.

“A total of 21 violations since ceasefire commencement have come to our notice,” a coalition source told Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity.

“If the United Nations continues to drag the chain and take too long to get into the (military) theatre, they will lose the opportunity altogether… and the agreement will turn a dead duck,” the source said.

“We will continue to give them the benefit of the doubt and show restraint but early indicators are not promising.”

The Houthi-aligned al-Masirah TV accused the Saudi-led coalition of being responsible for the ceasefire violations, including shelling several sites east of the airport. However, the UAE state news agency WAM accused the Houthis of firing mortars and rockets at the May 22 hospital in Hodeida’s eastern suburbs, quoting an unnamed Yemeni source.

The questions over the ceasefire come one day after it went into effect on December 18, following UN-brokered talks in Sweden that many hoped could lead to an end to the conflict. The Hodeidah ceasefire along with other agreements were viewed as part of confidence-building measures ahead of creating a political framework early next year.

In addition to the UN-supervised withdrawal of fighters from Hodeidah, the International Committee of the Red Cross is to oversee an exchange of some 15,000 prisoners.

A “mutual understanding” was reached to facilitate aid deliveries to Taiz, which is under the control of loyalists but besieged by rebels.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Khalid al-Yamami warned that the government would not attend the next round of talks, scheduled for late January, unless security and stability return to Hodeidah.

Military representatives of Yemen’s warring sides were to discuss a mutual withdrawal of all forces from Hodeidah on December 19. UN observers are to set up monitoring teams, including government and rebel representatives who will oversee implementation of the ceasefire and mutual troop withdrawal.

UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths confirmed “neutral forces” would be responsible for maintaining security in Hodeidah after the ceasefire and troop withdrawal.