Yemeni rebels confirmed Saturday they were beginning a unilateral withdrawal from the lifeline port of Hodeida in a bid to kickstart implementation of a December truce brokered by the UN. Two ships were docked at the port and operations were running normally, said the witness who was at the facility.
The UN says the Huthi rebels announced late on May 10 that they would unilaterally redeploy their forces out of three Red Sea port facilities over four days beginning on May 11 - potentially opening the way for the delivery of humanitarian aid needed to prevent a starvation that threatens millions of people. "The coast guards have taken over in Saleef", he said.
But they've yet to announce a withdrawal.
Yemen's Houthi rebels announced a unilateral pullout from three key ports in Hodeidah on Saturday as part of a long stalled ceasefire agreement, but the move was quickly dismissed by the government as a sham meant to mislead the global community.
But the UN's statement did not specifically mention any reciprocal redeployment by the pro-government forces, which have the support of a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. However, Yemeni Information Minister Muammar al-Iryani told Reuters the pullout was "a flagrant show".
Provincial Governor Al-Hasan Taher told AFP the rebels were handing the ports "to themselves without any monitoring by the United Nations and the government side".
The withdrawal was a "show" meant to "disinform the global community", he added.
The U.N. -brokered deal was vague on who would control Hodeida's strategic ports after the sides withdraw, saying a "local force" would take over without specifying further. Western allies, which supply arms and intelligence to the coalition, have pushed for an end to the war.
The ports are used for grain, oil, commerce and aid, with Hodeidah handling 70 percent of the country's food imports and humanitarian relief.
In a second phase, both sides would pull troops 18 km outside the city and move heavy weapons 30 km away.
The pullout was part of an accord, seen as the best hope in years of ending the war, reached in Sweden last December. Hodeidah became the focus of the war past year when the coalition twice tried to seize its port to cut off the main supply line of the Houthis, whom they accuse of smuggling Iranian weapons, including missiles that have targeted Saudi cities.
"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 global community and the (UN) Security Council before the next meeting", Eryani tweeted.
The Saudi-led coalition has been carrying out airstrikes against the Houthis at Hadi's request.
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