HODEIDA, YEMEN — Representatives from Yemen’s Houthis and the Saudi-led Coalition have agreed on Phase 1 of a mutual redeployment of forces under a UN-sponsored deal that would see both sides leave Yemen’s port city of Hodeida after months of failed attempts to implement previous agreements in the Red Sea city.
The UN spokesman’s office said in a statement Monday that, “the parties reached an agreement on Phase 1 of the mutual redeployment of forces» after two days of talks in Hodeida, “after lengthy but constructive discussions facilitated by the RCC Chair, the parties reached an agreement on Phase 1 of the mutual redeployment of forces.»
According to the UN, no date has yet been set for the process of Hodeida’s demilitarization to begin. «The parties also agreed, in principle, on Phase 2 of the mutual redeployment, pending additional consultations within their respective leadership.»
Under «Phase 1» of the withdrawal plan, the Houthis would withdraw from the ports of Hodeida, Saleef and Ras Isa. Saudi-led coalition forces would then retreat from the eastern outskirts of Hodeida, the main entry point for most of Yemen’s commercial and aid imports. Saleef and Ras Isa are crucial ports for grain and oil imports.
A Houthi source told MintPress that under the deal, Saudi militants would also reopen the roads linking Hodeida to Taiz as well as to the Houthi-held capital, Sanaa. They would also enable access to the Red Sea Mills, a food storage facility which holds enough World Food Programme grain to feed 3.7 million people for up to one month. The Mills have been inaccessible since September due to Saudi attacks.
Mohammed al-Houthi, a high-ranking Houthi official, revealed Monday that Houthi forces were withdrawing five kilometers away from the Salif and Ras Issa ports away of, while Saudi forces would withdraw one kilometer away from the Kilo 7 triangle east of the Red Sea Mills.
Al-Houthi added that, through the implementation of the first phase of the redeployment agreement in Hodeida, grain will be transported to from the Red Sea Mills to those in need and the passage of aid will be allowed within 11 days. He went on to warn the U.S., Saudi Arabia, the UAE that they would be responsible for any obstruction of peace or impediment to the implementation of the agreement.
The breakthrough in the talks is the first achievement for the newly-appointed head of the United Nations mission to Yemen, Danish Lt. Gen. Michael Anker Lollesgaard, after he arrived in Hodeida at beginning of February.
A timeline for the withdrawal and details surrounding how local forces would take control of security at the ports has yet to be agreed upon according to an unnamed source involved in the negotiations. There are also concerns over a large Saudi-led Coalition convoy of military reinforcements that were sent to Hodeida after the withdrawal agreement was announced.
The UN is still discussing how to broker an agreement between the two sides over who will choose which forces control the city following the withdrawal of Houthi and Saudi-Coalition forces, a sticking point in the ceasefire talks since they began. The UN confirmed that the warring parties had also agreed «in principle” on Phase 2 of the withdrawal agreement, which would involve the full redeployment of both sides’ forces to other parts of Hodeida province.
Saudi gestures abound, but action in short supply
Implementation of the first phase of the agreement was initially slated to begin on Tuesday morning but the Saudi-led Coalition has thus far failed to begin redeployment, claiming the delay is due to issues outside the terms of the UN-brokered agreement. Houthi officials have indicated that they have informed the head of the UN Coordination Committee that they have been ready to begin redeployment since Monday evening.
The Head of the Houthi National Delegation, Mohamed AbdulSalam said Monday evening, «The chairman of the [UN] Coordination Committee has asked us to wait until he is able to reach a breakthrough with the other party, we are waiting for a response. We hope that our team will receive the signal to begin this evening so that we can start the implementation of the first phase starting Tuesday morning.»
AbdulSalam went on to say that «the matter is in the hand of the other party, and our people and various international parties know who is causing an impediment to peace.” The spokesman for Yemeni Army, Major Yehia Sariya, said that intelligence information confirms that the Saudi-led Coalition has intensified their forces in the area and built has constructed additional fortifications and trenches.”
For Yemenis desperate for a solution, it may be hard to believe the Coalition’s promises of a withdrawal after previous promises were made and subsequently broken. «The implementation of the Armistice Agreement is not expected. The Coalition has another agenda. We see the Saudi-led Coalition’s huge military reinforcements have reached Hodeida» Mohammed al-Hassani, a Yemeni journalist, told MintPress.
The Houthis and their Saudi counterparts initially agreed to a mutual troop withdrawal from Hodeida last December, but the Saudi Coalition wanted the Houthis to withdraw eight kilometers outside of the city while Saudi their own troops would remain within a half of a kilometer from the city limits, leaving many to suspect that the Coalition was using the agreement as a pretext to quickly occupy Hodeida unopposed.
Concerns remain that the new agreement could effectively act as a new tactic for the Saudi-led coalition to fulfill its military objectives and not as a stepping stone towards peace. The Saudi coalition is still operating on the premise that capturing Hodeida would be an economic and military blow to the Houthis and would ultimately weaken the group, while Yemeni Armed Forces and allied fighters loyal to the Houthis are fully prepared to respond to any act of aggression by Saudi Arabia.
Top Photo | Saudi backed mercenary forces, part of Ahmed Al-Kawkabani’s southern resistance unit in Hodeida, patrol al-Khoukha, Yemen, Feb. 12, 2018. Nariman El-Mofty | AP
Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.