A ceasefire in Yemen’s battleground port city of Hodeidah and its surroundings will start on Tuesday, December 18, a United Nations official said, after renewed fighting threatened the hard-won accord struck in Sweden.
The deal announced on Thursday between Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and the Houthi rebels included an “immediate ceasefire” in Hodeidah, whose Red Sea port serves as a crucial gateway for humanitarian aid.
The U.N. official, who requested anonymity, told AFP that the delay to the halt in hostilities until midnight (2100 GMT) on Monday was necessary for “operational reasons.”
Yemen’s Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, who led the government’s delegation to the peace talks, also told state-run television late Sunday that the ceasefire would begin at midnight Monday.
An official in the Saudi-led coalition confirmed the timing to AFP, adding that details on implementing the truce deal “were not clear at the beginning.”
The coalition “has no intention of violating the agreement … unless the Houthis violate and dishonor it,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Residents in Hodeidah and the surrounding areas have reported fierce fighting and airstrikes in recent days, as clashes continued between Saudi-backed government forces and the Iran-aligned Houthis.
At least 29 fighters, including 22 Houthi rebels, were killed on Saturday night in Hodeidah province, a pro-government military source told AFP.
Two Hodeidah residents reached by telephone told AFP that they could hear intermittent clashes to the east and south of the city on Monday.
A pro-government military official said that there were sporadic clashes, adding that a fire erupted in one of the factories in the east of the city due to strikes on Sunday night.
‘Continuous fighting’ in Hodeidah
Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) voiced alarm about “the continuous fighting” in Hodeidah.
The medical aid group said its teams on the ground were treating victims of gunshots, shelling and air strikes, urging warring parties “to respect the presence of civilians and health infrastructures.”
U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths said on Sunday that the U.N. was working with both sides to ensure the ceasefire accord was “implemented timely and properly.”
The truce is supposed to be followed by the withdrawal of fighters from Hodeidah within days on both sides.
A prisoner swap involving some 15,000 detainees is planned and a “mutual understanding” was reached to facilitate aid deliveries to Yemen’s third city Taiz – under the control of loyalists but besieged by rebels.
The two sides also agreed to meet again in late January for more talks to define the framework for negotiations on a comprehensive peace settlement.
Impoverished Yemen has been mired in fighting between the Houthi rebels and troops loyal to President Abd rRbbo Mansour Hadi since 2014.
The war escalated in 2015 when a Saudi-led military coalition stepped in on the government’s side.
The conflict has since killed nearly 10,000 people, according to the World Health Organization, but some rights groups believe the toll to be far higher.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Sunday that “much worse” lay in store for the impoverished country in 2019 unless its warring parties strike a peace deal and head off a humanitarian crisis.
Severe food shortages mean that a high number of Yemenis have been dying in “very dramatic circumstances,” Guterres told a news conference in Doha.
Diplomats said Guterres may propose a surveillance mechanism comprising 30 to 40 observers.
With reporting from AFP