Dubai: Iranian-aligned Al Houthi forces have agreed to draw back from two Yemeni ports on Monday while withdrawal from the main Hodeida port will occur later alongside a retreat by coalition-backed forces massed outside the city, UN and Yemeni sources said.
Al Houthi forces will withdraw 5 km from the ports of Saleef, used for grain, and Ras Eisa, an oil terminal, as a first step agreed with the internationally-recognised government, three sources said.
The Al Houthi withdrawal from Hodeida port and the pull-back by coalition forces 1 km away from the city’s “Kilo 7” eastern suburb would take place as a second step, they said.
An orderly troop withdrawal from Hodeida, now a focus of an almost four-year war, is key to UN-led efforts to avert a full-scale assault on the port and pave the way for political negotiations.
The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
The United Nations has been trying to salvage a truce deal agreed at peace talks in December between Al Houthis and the Saudi-backed government.
That process has stalled over who would control of Hodeida, a Red Sea port used to feed Yemen’s 30 million people.
Hodeida is held by Al Houthis while other Yemeni forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition loyal to ousted President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi are positioned on the edges of the city.
Hadi’s top negotiator, Foreign Minister Khalid Al Yamani, said the initial Al Houthi redeployment must be verified before further progress can be made and humanitarian corridors reopened.
“This is what was agreed by the Yemeni government: we verify the first step before implementing the second,” he told Al Sharq Al Awsat newspaper in remarks published on Sunday.
A small team of UN observers arrived in Hodeida after the ceasefire went into effect on Dec. 18 to oversee troop redeployments by both sides.
The deal calls for local authorities to assume control of Hodeida but did not detail the process, leaving it open to interpretation.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intervened in Yemen in 2015 to try to restore Hadi’s internationally-recognised government after it was ousted from power in the capital Sana’a in late 2014.