Tensions escalate over Yemen's Hoidedah amid fragile cease-fire

COMPILED FROM WIRE SERVICES
ISTANBUL
Published 26.01.2019 17:43

Yemen's Saudi-backed government yesterday denied that rebels had pulled out of a strategically important port in the embattled city of Hodeida under a U.N.-brokered deal and accused them of handing over the facility to their loyalists. On Saturday, rebel officials said the handover of the port was conducted in the presence of a U.N. monitoring team.

The United Nations has cast doubt on the claims by Yemen's Shiite rebels to have withdrawn from the port of Hodeidah, saying such steps can only be credible if all other parties can verify them. A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said yesterday that the rebels failed to honor an agreement to open a "humanitarian" corridor between Hodeida and the capital, Sanaa, to deliver humanitarian assistance.

"The Houthis' announcement of their redeployment at the Hodeida port and transferring it to elements affiliated to them is a rejected and unacceptable matter," said Askar Zaeel, a government official, as reported by German news service dpa. "This step lowers peace opportunities and unmasks intentions of the militia [Houthis] and its swift efforts to undermine the U.N.-sponsored agreement," he told the official news agency Saba. Zaeel, who participated in the Sweden talks, said the deal makes it "unequivocal" that the management of Hodeida's three ports and their security are the responsibility of government agencies.

Earlier this month, Yemen's warring sides reached a ceasefire agreement on Hodeida at U.N.-sponsored talks in Sweden as part of moves aimed at building confidence between them. The deal was seen as a breakthrough in efforts to end Yemen's four-year war, which has claimed thousands of lives and pushed the impoverished country to the brink of famine.

Last week, a U.N. monitoring team, led by retired Dutch General Patrick Cammaert, arrived in Hodeidah to oversee the ceasefire that went into effect on Dec. 18 amid accusations of breaches by both sides. The committee comprises representatives from the government and rebels.

Hodeidah is of strategic importance because of its port, which is the entry point for some 80 per cent of Yemen's imports and aid. In June, a Saudi-led coalition supporting the Yemeni government began a major offensive to seize Hodeida, which has been under the control of rebels since October 2014, a month after the Houthis overran the capital Sanaa.

Yemen lies beside the southern mouth of the Red Sea, one of the most important trade routes in the world for oil tankers. It has been wracked by conflict since 2014 when Shiite Houthi rebels overran much of the country. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the former Saudi defense minister, and Saudi Arabia's allies launched Operation Decisive Storm in March 2015. Civilians have borne the brunt of the conflict. The last available U.N. figure for the civilian death toll was published in 2016 and stood at more than 10,000. The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, which tracks violence in Yemen, puts it at around 57,000 people.

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