Yemen's Houthis offer unilateral withdrawal from key ports in coming days

Yemen's Houthis offer unilateral withdrawal from key ports in coming days

Yemen's Houthis offer unilateral withdrawal from key ports in coming days

The UN spokesman Farhan Haq confirmed to reporters at the UN headquarters in NY on Saturday that the Houthi rebels' withdrawal from Hodeidah ports "has begun".

While there is a long way to go before it can be said that this conflict, deemed the worst current humanitarian crisis, is over, any step towards that objective must be welcomed.

A minister in the Yemeni government backed by Saudi Arabia dismissed on Saturday the Houthi movement's pullout from the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah as a "show" meant to "disinform the global community".

In an official statement on Sunday, ex-general Michael Lollesgaard of Danish, the current head of the UN's Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) said, "All three ports were monitored simultaneously by the United Nations teams as the military forces left the ports and the coast guards took over responsibility for security".

If seen through, the withdrawal from the Red Sea port of Hudaydah, a key gateway for humanitarian aid into Yemen, as well as the ports of Ras Isa and Salif, would represent the first practical step by forces on the ground to implement an internationally-backed ceasefire agreed to in December.

The withdrawal process is crucial in allowing desperately needed humanitarian aid through the strategic port of Hodeida, which serves about 70% of Yemen's population.

A Saudi-led coalition allied with the government has been at war with the Iran-aligned Houthis since 2015.

The government forces, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, have advanced to the southern outskirts of the port city since June 2017, but the forces have halted a major offensive to recapture Hodeidah to pave the way for peace efforts.

The Yemeni information minister, Moammar al-Eryani, has castigated the proposal as "innacurate" and "misleading", arguing that any withdrawl of forces that does not envisage "joint verification" by the parties is "elusive and manipulative".

The Houthi group and the Yemeni agreed last December - after a week of UN-sponsored peace talks in Sweden - to cease fighting and withdraw forces.

"The Houthi militia must withdraw from the wharves and from around the ports completely", Col Al Dubaish said. The UN has said that a record 22.2 million Yemenis are in dire need of food, including 8.4 million threatened by severe hunger.

Hodeidah has become the focus of the war since past year when the coalition twice tried to seize its port to cut off the Houthis' main supply line.

United Nations vehicles on their way to Saleef port are seen at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah on Saturday. Some 60,000 people have been killed in the war that has pushed many Yemeni's to the brink of starvation. The Houthis handed over the ports to local coast guard forces in Hodeidah, and two smaller ports in the vicinity.

The port of Hodeida is one of Yemen's most important lifelines.

In a second phase, both sides would pull troops 18km outside the city and move heavy weapons 30km away.

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