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Yemen: besieged port sees first cargo ship in 7 years

February 28, 2023 at 8:11 am

A partial view of the port of the Red Sea city of Hudaydah on 22 November 2018 [STR / AFP /Getty Images]

Yemen’s Red Sea port of Hudaydah has received a container ship carrying general commercial goods, the first such vessel and cargo to enter the port since at least 2016. The arrival of the much-needed shipment on Saturday comes amid ongoing talks to reinstate the expired UN-brokered truce between the Saudi-led coalition and the de facto Houthi government in the capital Sanaa.

According to Reuters, the goods arriving at Hudaydah must first be vetted by a UN inspection body tasked with preventing arms shipments entering the war-torn country. Over the past seven years, the Djibouti-based Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM) has permitted ships to enter Hudaydah carrying certain essentials such as foodstuffs, fuel and cooking oil.

The breakthrough has been described by the Saudi-backed, internationally-recognised Yemeni government as a “trust-building” initiative aimed at supporting Saudi-Houthi negotiations for a renewed truce, which expired in October 2022. Last month, separate backchannel talks initiated by Oman also resumed. They are intended to hasten an end to the war.

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Land access to the port is largely controlled by the Sanaa authorities, which have stressed previously that lifting the coalition-imposed blockade on Yemen’s main port was one of the conditions for ending the eight-year war.

“The mechanism previously only provided clearance for specific shipments but now UNVIM is granting clearances for all kinds of shipments to Hudaydah port,” said Muhammad Abu Bakr Bin Ishaq, the head of the Houthi-run Red Sea Ports Corporation. He told Reuters that the increased flow of goods into the western port would reduce transportation costs for products, as most were entering via Aden in the south, which serves as the interim capital of the Yemeni government.

Abdul Wahab Al-Durra, the Houthi minister of transportation, told reporters that, “The docks at the ports of Hudaydah , Saleef and Ras Issa are crowded with ships, and there are ships waiting to unload.” He added that a further 18 ships are currently on their way to Yemen.

In May last year, Sanaa International Airport — which was also included in the Saudi-imposed embargo — saw its first commercial flight take off in almost six years, heading for Jordan’s capital Amman. This was followed by Egypt agreeing to allow direct flights to resume between Sanaa and Cairo.

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