Fighting grips Hodeidah port, complicates peace moves

Updated May 16, 2019

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The file picture shows Yemeni pro-government forces gathered near Hodeida airport.—AFP/File
The file picture shows Yemeni pro-government forces gathered near Hodeida airport.—AFP/File

DUBAI: Houthi fighters and Saudi-backed pro-government forces battled in Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah on Wednesday, breaching a ceasefire and potentially complicating a troop withdrawal agreement intended to pave the way for wider peace talks.

Hodeidah port, which has been under Houthi control, 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.

The Houthi withdrawal from Hodeidah and two other Red Sea ports began on Saturday and was the most significant advance yet in efforts to end the four-year-old war.

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 Houthi movement claimed responsibility for a drone attack that Saudi Arabia said had hit two of its oil pumping stations.

Houthi-run media said pro-government forces had hit various parts of Hodeidah city, including the airport, with heavy and medium weapons.

It did not say if they were Yemeni troops or members of an international military coalition led by Saudi Ara­bia which backs President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s Aden-based government. The coalition-backed forces said in a report that Houthi fighters tried to infiltrate Hodeidah and the al-Dur­ai­hmi area to its south but pro-government troops foiled them.

The coalition has forces massed on Hodeidah’s outskirts and under the withdrawal plan’s first phase, they are supposed to eventually also draw back.

United Nations Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths cal­led on the UN Security Cou­ncil on Wednesday to urge the warring parties to work quickly to implement the remaining redeployments agreed during peace talks in Stockholm in December.

“We would like the parties to ensure that the momentum that we now begin to see is maintained by implementing subsequent steps of the mutual redeployments,” he told the 15-member body.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2019