Hodeida withdrawal agreed
February 20, 2019 | Expert Insights
Yemen’s government and the Houthi rebels have agreed on the first stage of a mutual pullout of forces from the port city of Hodeida, a key entry point for humanitarian aid, the United Nations said.
The modern Republic of Yemen is a relatively new state. Prior to becoming the modern state of Yemen, several dynasties emerged from the ninth to 16th centuries to rule the region. The most powerful one was the Rasulid dynasty. In the early 20th century, the country was divided between the Ottoman and British empires. South Yemen became a communist country and North Yemen remained traditional to its roots. In 1990, the two regions merged.
Yemen, one of the world’s poorest countries in the world, has been devastated by the war between forces loyal to the internationally recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and those allied to the Houthi rebel movement. The Yemen Civil war began in 2011 with the Arab Spring protests that led to the fall of the then President Ali Abdallah Saleh on charges of corruption and economic grievances. Hadi, his deputy minister at that time, took over the region. However, the increasing political instability in Yemen paved the way for the Houthi, representing the Shiite minority to take over the territory.
Military intervention was launched by Saudi Arabia in 2015, to influence the Civil War in Yemen. A two-year Saudi-led campaign has damaged infrastructure and caused shortage of medicine in one of the poorest Arab countries. Reports have also emerged that there are players within Yemen who actively sponsor terrorism by funding activities conducted by ISIS.
The Saudi-led coalition has been carrying out air strikes against the Houthi rebels for more than 2 years now. Since then, the country has been plunged into a civil war in which the exiled government backed by Saudi Arabia is trying to defeat the Houthi group aligned with Iran.
The Port city of Hodeida has seen intense fighting for control by both government forces and rebels due to its strategic location.
A U.N. statement said the agreement between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels for a mutual withdrawal has come after two days of meetings in Hodeida. The warring parties agreed to a cease-fire in the city and a prisoner exchange during talks held in Sweden in December 2018, but the implementation of both has been stalled.
The statement said both sides “made important progress on planning for the redeployment of forces as envisaged in the Hodeida agreement.”
Yemen’s government has been battling the rebels since 2014, when the Houthis swept down from the north and seized the capital, Sanaa. A Saudi-led coalition entered the war on the side of the government in March 2015. The stalemated conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and raised fears of famine.
“It’s encouraging news that this has happened, as people had been losing faith in the process, causing fears that we’d soon see a return to combat in and around Hodeida,” said Peter Salisbury, a senior analyst at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. He said the parties now need to implement the agreement, warning that “there is plenty of room for them to play games here, so we shouldn’t get overexcited.”
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt hailed their progress, tweeting that the agreement must be “swiftly finalized and implemented” and urging progress on the prisoner release. Under the U.N.-brokered agreement reached in December, both sides agreed on the redeployment of forces out of Hodeida, which is currently controlled by the Houthis. Local authorities and police would run the city and its three ports under U.N. supervision.
The first stage of implementation, agreed upon over the weekend, would see both sides withdraw forces from the ports of Hodeida, Salif and Ras Issa, which handle about 70 per cent of Yemen’s imports.
U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths meanwhile departed from Sanaa on Monday, a day after meeting with rebel leader Abdul-Malek al-Houthi to discuss the “complex situation” in and around Hodeida.
Our assessment is that a mutual withdrawal from Hodeida will give a much-needed respite to the Yemeni citizens trapped in the city since the fighting began four years ago. We believe that the UN will push for a massive humanitarian aid corridor starting at Hodeida in order to address the high level of child malnutrition in the country as well as provide basic medical supplies to the injured.
Image Courtesy: Ibrahem Qasim (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yemeni_soldiers_from_the_1st_Armoured_Division.JPG), „Yemeni soldiers from the 1st Armoured Division“, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/legalcode