A fragile calm has taken hold in Yemen’s western city of Hodeidah, just hours after a UN-brokered ceasefire deal between Houthi fighters and forces loyal to the government came into effect.
Residents in the city told Al Jazeera that fighting had subsided by 12:00 GMT on Tuesday, despite the sound of sporadic gunfire ringing out in parts of the city.
“The situation is calm, but it’s important to remember that even on a normal day you can hear the sound of gunfire,” said Salem Jaffer Baobaid, deputy director of Islamic Relief in Hodeidah.
After a week of consultations in the Swedish town of Rimbo, representatives from the Houthi movement and the Saudi-UAE-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi agreed to pull back their fighters from Hodeidah and allow the deployment of UN-supervised neutral forces and the establishment of humanitarian corridors.
Baobaid, who lost his wife after she was diagnosed with an autoimmune liver infection, a treatable illness, said residents were praying the truce would hold.
“The humanitarian situation is beyond horrible. The majority of people don’t know where they will get their next meal and the number of malnourished people is shockingly high.
“Women can’t produce milk for their children. People are dying every day. The humanitarian situation is very bad and residents here need urgent help”.
‘Military experience needed’
Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths hopes a UN Security Council resolution, drafted by the UK, will endorse the agreements reached in Stockholm including the need for a UN body to supervise port administration and mutual troop withdrawals.
More than 22 million people in Yemen are in need of aid, including 8.4 million who are at risk of starvation.
The UN Security Council has previously expressed its “deep concern” over the fighting and UN officials have warned of a risk of famine.
According to the UN, both parties are expected to withdraw from the city within the next 21 days and international monitors, led by retired Dutch Major-General Patrick Cammaert, will be deployed.
Sources told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that members of the monitoring mission could be on the ground as early as Wednesday.
Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor, James Bays, said the monitoring team will “look at what functions they need to perform and then decide on the form – the number of monitors they’re going to need to come from UN members states.
“People with military experience will be needed but they will operate on the ground in an unarmed capacity,” he said.
As part of the ceasefire agreement, the three ports of Hodeidah, Ras Isa and Saleef will fall under the control of “local forces”, who would then send the ports’ revenues to the Central Bank of Yemen.
Yemen’s Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani has declined to specify whether the forces will be state security forces, instead saying they would report to the “central authority”.
Vaguely worded agreement
Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Adow said there are several obstacles that could prevent the “vaguely worded” agreement reached at the UN-backed talks in Sweden from working on the ground.
“For example, it doesn’t say who are going to be the neutral forces that are supposed to take over once these militias from both sides leave the city,” he said.
“It’s also been suggested that the two groups will form joint units – which is almost impossible – and then there is a plan for the Houthis to hand over a map of the city showing landmines, improvised explosive devices, as well as booby-trapped compounds and where they are – something that could prove to be a stumbling block.”
Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, has been devastated by a multi-sided conflict involving local, regional and international actors.
The conflict began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by the Houthis, who toppled President Hadi’s government. A Saudi-UAE-led coalition allied with Yemen’s internationally recognised government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.
Since then, more than 60,000 people have been killed in the fighting, according to estimates by rights groups, and as many as 85,000 children may have starved to death.
Speaking on Sunday at an event in the Qatari capital, Doha, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that if Yemen’s humanitarian situation did not improve, 14 million people would need food aid in 2019, six million more than this year.
“There is a high level of hunger in Yemen,” he said.
“The fact that famine was not yet declared does not in any way diminish our huge concern with the very high level of hunger that exists in Yemen with a number of people dying in very dramatic circumstances.”