Yemen's Houthi rebels jeopardise Hodeidah ceasefire by fortifying positions

Government forces say rebels are digging defensive trenches around areas under their control in port city

epa07934862 Members of Houthi militia pass a destroyed building during the deployment of observers on cross-lines in Hodeidah, Yemen, 19 October 2019. According to reports, Lieutenant General of India Abhijit Guha, chair of the UN's redeployment coordination committee in the Yemeni city of Hodeidah, oversaw the deployment of observers on cross-lines and checkpoints in Hodeidah to stabilize the ceasefire and activate a new procedure for de-escalation in the port city between the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed government forcers. Hodeidah is the key lifeline entry point for most of the Arab country’s food imports and humanitarian aid.  EPA/NAJEEB ALMAHBOOBI
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Yemeni government forces say Houthi rebels have started digging defensive trenches in Hodeidah, threatening recent progress on implementing a UN-brokered ceasefire and troop withdrawal in the port city.

The UN-chaired Redeployment and Co-ordination Committee was given the task of implementing the ceasefire and set up joint monitoring posts on the eastern and southern outskirts of Hodeidah last month.

The UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, welcomed the move as “remarkable and tangible progress” that could lead to the full implementation of the ceasefire agreed to at talks in Sweden last December.

But the rebels soon started fortifying their positions by digging 19 trenches in areas under their control in the city centre, a spokesman for the government's Joint Forces in Hodeidah told The National.

“The new channels were dug a few days after the UN put the local monitors in place to observe any new violations,” Col Wathah Al Dubaish said.

These include trenches around the Hodeidah University Faculty of Engineering, Al Khameri roundabout and around the Thabet Brothers compound, he said.

“Such escalation poses a serious threat to the progress made by the UN to strengthen the ceasefire,” Col Al Dubaish said.

Complaints to the UN observer mission in Hodeidah and to Mr Griffiths have not had any effect.

“We reported the Houthi escalation to the UN committee but they told us that the chair of the RCC, Gen Abhijit Guha, is on a visit to Sanaa," Col Al Dubaish said.

"We then sent a letter to Martin Griffiths who didn’t respond at all. Meanwhile the rebels continue digging the channels before the eyes of the local monitors.

“We are waiting for the UN committee to send its monitors to investigate the Houthi violation, otherwise the monitoring posts recently set up by the UN will be cancelled.“

Col Al Dubaish said Yemen would also raise the issue through its mission at the UN.

Meanwhile, Houthi shelling killed a boy, aged 6, in the southern province of Dhalea, another front in Yemen’s civil war that began with the rebel takeover of the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014.

The boy was playing outside his home in the village of Al Mashareeh when a tank shell landed near his home on Sunday, said a spokesman for the Southern Forces fighting the rebels in Dhalea.

Fuad Jubari told The National that the attack in the Hajer area of northern Dhalea was part of a wider rebel offensive targeting residents of villages near the border with rebel-held Ibb province.

Mr Jubari said the Houthis were forcibly displacing dozens of families in the area to use their homes as fortifications.

The rebels had rounded up and taken away hundreds of young men after attacks on Mawgar, Al Arem and Al Khabt villages, he said, while women and children were pushed into areas controlled by the Southern Forces.

The Houthis launched an offensive to capture Dhalea in March but have been driven back to the northern areas bordering Ibb.

The Southern Forces have regained several strategic positions in recent months, clearing rebels from the Al Fakher area in their latest push launched on October 8.

Mr Jubari said a landmine laid by the Houthis severely injured five women on Monday as civilians were returning to their homes after government forces had cleared rebels from Al Kafala village in Hajer.