Yemen’s warring parties have agreed to start withdrawing forces from the main port of Hudaydah under a UN-sponsored deal, the United Nations said, following weeks of diplomacy to salvage a pact that stalled over control of the Red Sea city, says Reuters.
The Iran-aligned Houthi movement and the Saudi-backed government agreed in talks in December to withdraw troops by January 7 from Hudaydah – a lifeline for millions facing famine – under a truce accord aimed at averting a full-scale assault on the port and paving the way for negotiations to end the four-year-old war.
“The parties reached an agreement on Phase 1 of the mutual redeployment of forces,” the UN spokesman’s office said in a statement without giving details on what was agreed.
Under Phase 1, the Houthis would withdraw from the ports of Hudaydah, Saleef, used for grains, and Ras Isa, used for oil. This would be met by a retreat of Saudi-led coalition forces from the eastern outskirts of Hudaydah, where battles raged before a ceasefire went into effect on December 18.
The Houthis control Hudaydah, the main entry point for the bulk of Yemen’s commercial and aid imports, while other Yemeni forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition loyal to ousted President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi are massed on the outskirts.
The UN statement said the two sides also agreed “in principle” on Phase 2, entailing full redeployment of both parties’ forces in Hudaydah province.
Two sources involved in the negotiations, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of discussions, said both sides had yet to agree on a withdrawal timeline or on a mechanism for local forces to take over security at the ports and city.
“The UN is still discussing how to reduce the gap between the two sides on how to choose the forces that will control the city,” one source told Reuters.
The parties could decide within 7-10 days on where they would re-position forces, said the other source, adding that Houthi fighters could pull back as far as 20 km (15 miles) from the port.
Disagreement on withdrawal had delayed opening humanitarian corridors needed to reach 10 million people on the brink of starvation in Yemen, the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula.