Dubai - Iran-backed Al Houthi militia and Saudi-backed pro-government forces battled in Yemen’s port city of Hodeida on Wednesday, breaching a ceasefire and potentially complicating a troop withdrawal agreement intended to pave the way for wider peace talks.
Hodeida port, which has been under Al Houthi occupation, is a lifeline for millions of Yemenis threatened by starvation because of the war as it is the main entry point for food imports and aid.
Al Houthi “withdrawal” from Hodeida and two other Red Sea ports began on Saturday.
The United Nations said on Tuesday the ports had been handed over to a coast guard and the pullout was going to plan.
But both sides reported renewed clashes on Wednesday, a day after the Iran-aligned militia claimed a drone terror attack that Saudi Arabia said had hit two of its oil pumping stations.
The coalition-backed forces said in a report that Houthi fighters tried to infiltrate Hodeida and the al-Duraihmi area to its south but pro-government troops foiled them.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a leading member of the coalition, have yet to comment on the Houthi withdrawal.
The coalition has forces massed on Hodeida’s outskirts and under the withdrawal plan’s first phase, they are supposed to eventually also draw back.
Lieutenant General Michael Lollesgaard, the head of the UN committee overseeing the withdrawal, said in Hodeida on Tuesday that the United Nations now had full access to the ports, which would allow its inspectors to check ships docking in the ports for any Al Houthi arms imports, he said.
It was not clear what effect the renewed fighting might have on the process.
France said on Wednesday the drone attacks on Saudi oil installations threatened regional security and it urged all sides to avoid an escalation that would put peace talks at risk.
The ceasefire in Hodeida, agreed during peace talks in Stockholm in December, has largely held despite intermittent shelling and skirmishes, but violence continues elsewhere in the country.
Al Arabiya television said on Wednesday that government forces had killed 97 Al Houthi fighters in the governorate of Al Dhalea in southwest Yemen.