Yemen government issues official confirmation of Hodeidah withdrawal

Arab states call for full Houthi commitment to UN deal

Emirati Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash speaks during a press conference in Dubai on June 18, 2018. The United Arab Emirates, part of a Saudi-led Arab military alliance in Yemen, warned Huthi rebels to withdraw from the key port city of Hodeida as coalition-backed government forces advance.
The "Hodeida port operation will continue unless rebels withdraw unconditionally,"  Gargash told a press conference in Dubai.
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Yemen's government officially confirmed on Wednesday that its troops are to withdraw from the port city of Hodeidah.

In a letter, seen by The National, addressed to the head of a UN team sent to monitor the deal, Danish general Michael Lollesgaard, Yemeni officials said the pullback is set to begin in 11 days and will be monitored by the UN.

"We have received assurances from general Lollesgaard that Houthi militias would begin withdrawing five kilometers from the ports of Saleed and Ras Issa within four days," said the letter.

The UN monitoring team will inspect the locations to ensure the areas are clear.

Government forces will then begin withdrawing 3.5 kilometers south of the Red Sea Mills, which will secure the passage for aid workers.

Humanitarian relief has been blocked from entering the Red Sea Mills, which has enough grains to feed 3.7 million people for a month.

"Access to the mills all depends on the issues of mines. The UN humanitarian coordinator and the World Food Programme have both accused the Houthis of obstructing access," a Yemeni government official told The National.

The government has stressed that it will not withdraw from the areas until full security is established in the province, the official said.

UN Special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, confirmed during a video briefing to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, that a deal had been struck and that the withdrawal from the larger Hodeidah port and “critical parts of the city associated with humanitarian facilities” would follow.

The agreement has been split into two phases.

Phase one stipulates that Houthi forces must withdraw from the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Issa.

In phase two, coalition forces from the eastern outskirts of the city will also withdraw.

Hodeidah, which has been under rebel control, is Yemen’s main entry point for desperately needed food, medicine, and other aid for civilians.

Mr Griffiths hailed the development and said it would allow access to the Red Sea Mills on the eastern edge of the port city, which is a major storage site for imported food.

The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said on Wednesday that Yemen's Houthis must demonstrate a willingness to act beyond their own interests.

“Crucial that Houthi words are met with deeds on redeployment in Hodeidah. Earlier dates and commitments lapsed. New ones should not,” Dr Gargash said on Twitter.

Both sides committed to a series of measures to pave the way for a full-scale peace effort during UN-brokered talks with the government in Sweden last December. However, the deal has not been fully enforced amid what the international coalition says is a litany of recorded rebel violations.

“Success in implementation will lead to more promising results,” Dr Gargash said.

The Stockholm deal included a ceasefire in Hodeidah and withdrawal of forces from the city and its ports, a prisoner exchange and the opening of humanitarian corridors to all areas of the country.

But concerns about the Houthis included the level of support they are receiving from Iran and the degree to which their political ambitions and commitments are to the UN-brokered deal.

Mr Griffiths, stressed on Tuesday that if collective peace efforts fail, the cost of war will rise steeply at the expense of the people.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s council of ministers welcomed on Wednesday an initiative raised during an international security conference in Poland, that aimed to find a comprehensive solution to the conflict.

The initiative denounced the Iran’s influence in undermining Yemen’s stability by funding and arming the Houthis.