In bid to implement a stalled troop withdrawal to save fragile cease-fire, representatives from both sides in the Yemen conflict met on a ship on the Red Sea yesterday in a renewed U.N.-led push.
The U.N. is overseeing the implementation of a ceasefire and troop withdrawal accord in Hodeidah, the main entry point for most of Yemen's imports, in the hope it will lead to a political solution to the almost four-year war.
The warring parties were meant to withdraw their forces by Jan. 7 as part of efforts to avert a full-scale assault on Hodeidah, but have failed to do so as the Iranian-aligned Houthi group and the Saudi-backed government disagree on who should control the city and ports.
Sunday's meeting was the third time the U.N.-led Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) convened since it was formed in December, bringing together the Houthis with the Saudi-backed, internationally recognized Yemeni government and U.N. mediators.
The parties met on a U.N. ship because attempts to convene the third meeting in territory held by coalition forces failed because the Houthis were unwilling to cross the frontline, sources have told Reuters. The first two meetings were held in territory under Houthi control, after which the head of the U.N. mission tasked with overseeing the deal, Patrick Cammaert, shuttled between the two parties.
Ahead of his visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the first-ever papal trip to the Arabian Peninsula, Pope Francis said he is following the humanitarian crisis in Yemen with great worry and urged all sides to respect international agreements and ensure food reaches suffering Yemenis.
"The population is exhausted by the long conflict and many, many children are suffering from hunger but they are not able to get to food deposits. The cry of these children and their parents rises up to God," he told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square during his regular Sunday address. "I appeal to all sides involved and to the international community to urgently press for respect of the agreements that have been reached, to guarantee the distribution of food, and work for the good of the population." "There are children who are hungry, they are thirsty, they don't have medicine," he added.
The UAE has played a leading role in the Saudi-led military coalition waging a nearly four-year war against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen in a conflict, which has pushed the poorest country on the peninsula to the brink of famine. 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.