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Clashes erupt in Yemen's Hodeida despite truce

The warring factions agreed during talks in Stockholm to a ceasefire in Hodeida [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 January, 2019

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Artillery and machine-gun exchanges rocked the southern part of Hodeida in early morning before tapering off later in day, the correspondent said.
Clashes erupted between Houthi rebels and government forces in Yemen's flashpoint port city of Hodeida on Saturday, dealing a new blow to a fragile truce, an AFP correspondent reported.

Artillery and machine-gun exchanges rocked the southern part of Hodeida in early morning before tapering off later in day, the correspondent said.

The rebel-held port city, which is a lifeline for the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid, was for months the main front line in the Yemeni conflict after government forces supported by Saudi Arabia and its allies launched an offensive to capture it in June.

But last month the warring parties agreed a ceasefire for Hodeida during UN-sponsored talks in Sweden.

The United Nations has said the truce has largely held since it came into force on December 18 but there have been delays in the agreed pullback of rebel and government forces.

The Houthis control most of Hodeida while government forces are deployed on its southern and eastern outskirts.

UN aid coordinator Lise Grande visited Hodeida on Friday and met local officials, the head of Yemen's National Authority for the Administration and Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Jaber al-Razahi, said.

"The reason for the visit of UN humanitarian coordinator Lisa Grande to Hodeida is to see the humanitarian situation... and ensure the arrival of aid through the port," Eazahi said.

After meeting Yemen’s President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, UN envoy Martin Griffiths warned on Wednesday that "substantial progress" was needed to advance peace efforts in Yemen before new talks can be held on ending the devastating war.

Addressing the Security Council, Griffiths said he was still "hopeful" that negotiations to follow up on a ceasefire deal reached last month in Sweden will be held "in the near future."

The breakthrough at the Sweden talks buoyed hopes of an end to the conflict, but the envoy's statement underscored that the diplomatic gains toward peace were fragile and the pace of progress slower than anticipated. 

"Both sides have largely adhered to the ceasefire and there has been a significant decrease in hostilities," Griffiths told the council by video-conference from Amman.

Talks are ongoing on a redeployment of forces from Hodeida, providing security in the city and opening up access routes to allow humanitarian convoys to reach millions in dire need of food aid, he added.

A meeting will be held in Amman next week to follow up on an agreed prisoner swap that could pave the way to an airlift of "many, many thousands" of detainees from both sides.

"It is my view and it is shared by the leadership of both parties, but also others, that substantial progress, particularly on Hodeida of course, is something that we would like to see before we reconvene the next consultations," said Griffiths.

Griffiths briefed the Security Council after a round of shuttle diplomacy in the region including talks with rebel leaders in Sanaa and Hadi in Riyadh on shoring up the ceasefire deal.

Yemenis hungrier, sicker

The United Nations is working to schedule a new round of talks, possibly in Kuwait, to build on the Stockholm agreement and advance toward a final deal to end the conflict.

The war between the Houthis and troops loyal to the government escalated in March 2015, when President Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia and the Riyadh-led coalitionintervened.

The conflict has unleashed the world's worst humanitarian crisis, according to the UN, which says 80 percent of the population - 24 million people - are in need of aid.  

Nearly 10 million people are just one step away from famine, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock told the council.

"Millions of Yemenis are hungrier, sicker and more vulnerable than a year ago," said Lowcock, who stressed that while the political process was important "it does not in itself feed a single starving child."

The Security Council is considering the creation of a new observer mission to Yemen to monitor the ceasefire in Hodeida, oversee the pullback of forces and allow the delivery of humanitarian aid.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has proposed the deployment of up to 75 observers to Yemen for an initial period of six months to shore up the ceasefire while talks on a broader peace deal are held.

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