Yemen rebels violated Hodeidah ceasefire more than 700 times in January

Government and Arab Coalition urge UN Security Council to ramp up pressure on Houthis

FILE PHOTO: Houthi allied police troopers secure a street in Hodeidah, Yemen December 31, 2018. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad/File Photo
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Yemen's Houthi rebels committed more than 700 violations of the UN-brokered ceasefire in Hodeidah in the past four weeks, causing dozens of deaths, the government and the allied Arab military coalition said.

In a letter seen by The National, the governments of Yemen and coalition members Saudi Arabia and the UAE called on the Security Council to increase international pressure on the Houthis in light of their continued violations.

According to a detailed list included in the letter, the rebels killed 48 and wounded 371 in 702 attacks since January 3. In total, the rebels violated the ceasefire in the Red Sea port city and surrounding areas 970 times since it went into effect on December 18, causing 71 deaths.

Many of the violations came from heavy artillery fire aimed at pro-government “national resistance forces”, the letter says, but the rebels have also used mortar shelling, RPG fire and sniper attacks.

“We call upon members of the United Nations Security Council to do everything in their power to demand the Iran-backed Houthis comply with the terms of the Stockholm Agreement,” the letter said, referring to the ceasefire deal reached at talks in Sweden between the rebels and government in December.

The ceasefire requires the rebels to withdraw from Hodeidah's ports and for both sides to move their forces out of the city. But the Houthis are reinforcing their military positions among the civilian population and digging trenches in the city in preparation for clashes, the letter says.

The majority of Yemen's food and humanitarian relief is shipped through Hodeidah and the UN considers the ceasefire there a priority to ensure aid reaches 14 million Yemenis on the brink of famine. It is also seen as a first step to ending more than four years of conflict.

The rebel failure to abide by the truce deal has prompted UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, to warn that the coalition was "prepared to use more calibrated force to prod Houthi compliance with Stockholm Agreement”.

The Arab Coalition has not ceased its attacks on the Houthis, but says it is pursuing its military campaign outside the area covered under the ceasefire deal. The goals of these attacks, the letter said, “is to apply carefully calibrated pressure and convince the Houthis to reconsider their options and start engaging seriously in the process agreed to in Stockholm”.

The coalition said it was fully committed to the UN's peace efforts.

The UN Security Council last week endorsed Danish former general Michael Lollesgaard as new head of its observer mission in Yemen, replacing Patrick Cammaert of the Netherlands.

The Houthis have boycotted meetings with Mr Cammaert as he sought to bring rebel and government representatives together to implement the peace deal. A vehicle in his convoy was shot at last month. No injuries were reported but the Yemeni government blamed the Houthis for the attack.

The letter warns that the Houthis “will be held responsible” for any breakdown in the Stockholm Agreement.

Both sides say they want an end to the violence, which has affected millions in the Arab world’s poorest country and triggered what the UN says is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.