DUBAI: The UN’s envoy to Yemen called on Sunday for pro-government forces and rebels to respect a ceasefire in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, after repeated clashes between the two sides threatened to unravel a hard-won accord hammered out in Sweden last week.

“The special envoy expects the two parties to respect their obligations as per the text and spirit of the Stockholm Agreement and to engage in the immediate implementation of its provisions,” envoy Martin Gri­ffiths tweeted.

He said the UN was working with Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and Iran-aligned Houthi rebels to ensure the accord on Hod­eida reached on Thur­sday was “implemented timely and properly”.

Clashes shook Hodeida on Sunday after air strikes and deadly fighting on the outskirts overnight, residents said.

UN chief Antonio Guterres warned that “much worse” lay in store for the impoverished country in 2019 unless its warring parties strike a peace deal and head off a humanitarian crisis.

The two sides exchanged accusations of violating the ceasefire accord that took effect on Friday but which quickly came under pressure.

At least 29 fighters, including 22 Houthi rebels and seven pro-government troops, were killed on Saturday night in clashes and air strikes in Hodeida province, a pro-government military source said.

No other sources could confirm the death toll.

According to the insurgents’ Al-Masirah television on Sunday, there were ongoing clashes and air strikes in the citand its outskirts.

‘Making progress’

The truce between Yemeni government forces, backed by a Saudi-led military coalition and

the Houthi rebels was due to be followed by the withdrawal of fighters from Hodeida within days on both sides.

In comments published on Saturday on the rebel-run Saba news agency, the Houthis accused pro-government forces of shelling residential neighbourhoods in Hodeida city.

Thursday’s ceasefire acc­o­rd has been seen as the most significant step tow­ards ending the devastating conflict in Yemen, where more than 14 million people are on the brink of famine.

The United States commended on Sunday the two sides that took part in the Sweden negotiations for “making progress on key initiatives”, calling for a de-escalation of tensions.

“Moving forward, all must continue to engage, de-escalate tensions, and cease ongoing hostilities,” the US embassy in Riyadh tweeted.

A prisoner swap involving some 15,000 detainees is planned and a “mutual understanding” has been reached to facilitate aid deliveries to Yemen’s third city Taiz — under the control of loyalists but besieged by rebels.

The two sides also agreed to meet again in late January for more talks to define the framework for negotiations on a comprehensive peace settlement.

Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2018