Yemen's Houthi rebels are undermining Hodeidah ceasefire, Security Council warned

UN representatives of UAE, Saudi Arabia and Yemen set out rebel violations in joint letter to council president

Houthi militants ride on the back of a truck as they withdraw, as part of a U.N.-sponsored peace agreement signed in Sweden earlier this month, from the Red Sea city of Hodeidah, Yemen December 29, 2018. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad

Houthi rebels violated the UN-brokered ceasefire in Hodeidah more than 200 times in less than two weeks since it went into effect and do not show signs of preparing to abide by the truce, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Yemen have told the Security Council.

The rebels killed 23 coalition forces and wounded 163 in 268 attacks between December 18 and December 30, according to a detailed list submitted by the permanent UN representatives of the theree countries to the Council president on December 31, along with a letter calling for international pressure on the Houthis to cease hostilities that threaten the peace process.

The rebel attacks in and around the port city ranged from sniper fire and artillery barrages to the launching of medium range ballistic missiles in attacks lasting up to an hour.

“The missile strikes in particular show that this vast number of violations cannot be attributed of individual ill-disciplined Houthi fighters, but that these actions are part of a deliberate strategy of provocation … designed to undermine the Stockholm Agreement,” the letter said.

The truce agreed at UN-brokered talks in December requires the Houthis to withdraw from Hodeidah's ports before rebel and government forces pull out of the city and surrounding areas.

Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy for Yemen, had prioritised a halt to fighting in Hodeidah as the entry point for the bulk of Yemen's food and humanitarian aid shipments that 14 million Yemenis on the brink of famine are reliant upon.

However, the Houthis are not only violating the truce but also entrenching themselves in the city, the letter to the Security Council says. A map attached to the letter shows where the Iran-backed rebels have dug 51 new trenches around the city and set up 109 new barricades on city streets.

Patrick Cammaert, head of the UN ceasefire monitors in Hodeidah, met with rebel and government representatives on Wednesday as chair of the joint Redeployment Co-ordination Committee to discuss security after both sides withdrew their forces.
However, Mr Cammaert "expressed anger over the charade put on by the militias over their redeployment of militia members disguised as security forces tasked to maintain the peace", Col Waddah Al Dubeish, spokesman of the pro-government Amalikah Brigades, told The National.

“This charade is rejected, and you need to know the stipulations of the ceasefire and both sides need to follow them,” Col Al Dubeish quoted Mr Cammaert as saying.


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The letter to the Security Council said the Houthis were deploying “heavy weapons in civilian neighbourhoods” — a further sign the Houthis intend to entrench their forces in the strategically important city.

The three countries also called upon the council to monitor the flow of Iranian weapons into Yemen and ensure compliance with its arms embargo. Success of the ceasefire "requires a dramatic shift in the behaviour of Iran", they said.

Residents of Hodeidah told The National of other attempts by the rebels to circumvent the UN ceasefire.

They said the Houthis were purchasing homes in Hodeidah with the aim of disguising themselves as civilians and maintaining a sleeper force in the city. 
In the past week, the Houthis increased their attacks on civilian populations in and around the city. They have set up sniper nests in warehouses holding humanitarian aid, according to the Arab Coalition, and killed residents in Hays.

The Houthis launched an attack south of Hodeidah earlier this week in which a civilian was killed by shrapnel from a rebel missile.

People returning to liberated parts of Hodeidah say retreating rebels left behind landmines which have killed civilians and made areas of the city uninhabitable. The militias also targeted coalition-supported forces who were clearing mines laid by the rebels.

A countrywide coalition demining programme has defused more than 40,000 explosive devices so far.  
Meanwhile, Col Al Dubeish said the Houthis threatened the Hodeidah governor, who was appointed by the rebels, to make him sign a letter condemning Mr Cammaert and accusing him of being biased towards the Yemeni government.  
Houthi rebels have controlled the critical port city on Yemen's Red Sea coast since 2015, giving them a chokehold on aid flows.
Yemen receives about 70 per cent of its food imports and humanitarian aid through Hodeidah. The ceasefire was aimed at ensuring supplies reach the 14 million Yemenis on the brink of famine.

The letter to the Security Council also pointed to the Houthis' disruption of aid to Yemenis by blocking or seizing shipment for sale on the black market.

The World Food Programme executive director, David Beasley, has warned rebel leader Abdulmalik Al Houthi that the Houthi theft of aid that has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis and said the rebels were "stealing food from the mouths of hungry Yemeni children".

“If you do not act within 10 days, WFP will have no choice but to suspend the assistance provided through SFP & HR that goes to an estimated 3 million people,” Mr Beasley said.