First Yemen pullback could begin as soon as Tuesday: UN envoy

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UNITED NATIONS: The first redeployment of forces in Yemen’s flashpoint city of Hodeida could possibly begin later Tuesday or the following day, a UN envoy said, marking the first concrete step toward de-escalation in the war.

Yemen’s government and Houthi rebels agreed on Sunday to the first phase of the pullback of forces, which is a key provision of a ceasefire deal reached in December in Sweden.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths told the Security Council that the sides had agreed to pull back from the rebel-held ports of Saleef and Ras Issa followed by a redeployment from Hodeida port, also held by the Houthis, and critical parts of the city.

“With the beginning, possibly even today or tomorrow, of the implementation of that part of the Hodeida agreement, we now have the opportunity to move from the promise made in Sweden to hope now for Yemen,” Griffiths told the council, speaking by video conference from Amman.

The pullback would also allow access in the coming days to the Red Sea Mills food warehouses, which are believed to contain enough grain to feed 3.7 million for a month, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock said.

The fragile Stockholm ceasefire deal for Hodeida marks the first step toward ending a devastating war that has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.

Decrease in hostilities 

The Red Sea port of Hodeida is the entry point for the bulk of imported goods and relief aid to Yemen, which the United Nations has described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Yemen’s rebels have been locked in a war with government forces backed since 2015 by a Saudi-led coalition.

“There is momentum on Yemen,” Griffiths told the council, insisting that since the ceasefire went into effect on December 18, there had been a “significant and consistent decrease in hostilities” in Hodeida.

Separate talks on an exchange of thousands of prisoners held in Jordan are making progress, said the envoy, but the Houthis and the government are insisting on agreement on the full lists of detainees.

“I would like to think that we are not far off from agreeing and realizing the release of a first batch” of detainees, said Griffiths.

About 80 per cent of Yemen’s population is in need of food aid, including 10 million people who are one step away from famine, according to the UN.

The country’s economy has been brought to its knees by restrictions placed by the Saudi-backed government for deliveries of imports.

The UN aid chief told the council that four vessels carrying fuel needed to pump water and keep hospital generators running were denied entry by the government on Monday.

Lowcock voiced hope that by the end of 2019, Yemen will no longer be considered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

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