Yemen: Houthis begin Hodeida port pullout

Yemen: Houthis begin Hodeida port pullout

Yemen: Houthis begin Hodeida port pullout

Yemen's Houthi rebels have begun a long-delayed withdrawal of their forces from key ports in Hodeidah province, the group said, under the terms of a UN-brokered peace agreement aimed at ending the country's four-year-long civil war.

The redeployment was agreed under the ceasefire reached in Sweden that offered the best hope in years of moving toward an end to the war that has pushed Yemen to the brink of starvation.

Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the head of the Houthis' Supreme Revolutionary Committee, said the pullout from Hodeidah as well as the Saleef and Ras Issa ports started at 10am local time (07:00GMT) on Saturday.

The UN Redeployment Committee (RCC), which is overseeing the agreement signed in Stockholm in December, said that the rebels would begin to make an "initial unilateral redeployment" from Saturday until Tuesday.

"We welcome any measures towards the implementation of the Sweden agreement on redeployment in ports in Hodeida province and warn of attempts by the militia to mislead the worldwide community and the (UN) Security Council before the next meeting", Eryani tweeted.

According to the United Nations, the Houthis have pledged to turn control of all three to the Yemen Red Sea Ports Corporation, a governmental body that manages some of the country's commercial shipping.

A United Nations observer mission, also led by the Danish general, will monitor and report on the redeployment. The Saudi-backed Yemeni government did not state whether their side would make a reciprocal move.

A second phase is scheduled to follow in which both sides pull their troops 18km outside of Hodeidah and heavy weapons 30km away.

The Yemeni government, however, accused the rebels of "staging a new ploy" by faking the withdrawal. "We support the implementation of the agreement".

Yemen's Information Minister Moammar Al Eryani criticised the Houthi offer to redeploy on Twitter, calling it "misleading" and unacceptable if it did not allow for "joint monitoring and verification" as stipulated by the December pact. The Saudi-led coalition has been carrying out airstrikes against the Houthis at Hadi's request.

Western states, some of which supply arms and intelligence to the coalition, are pressing for an end to the conflict, seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The Houthis' reported withdrawal came after the United Nations announced on Friday that the group had unilaterally agreed to pull out its forces from the three key ports as part of a "first practical step on the ground" towards fulfilling a pact agreed between Yemen's warring factions in Sweden last December.

There has been no comment so far from the Saudi-led Sunni Muslim military coalition that has massed forces outside Hodeidah, which handles the bulk of Yemen's imports and aid supplies.

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