UN calls for new talks on Yemen’s Hodeidah as front lines shift

Houthi fighters advanced into key positions in the strategic port city after pro-government forces withdrew.

The attacks were the first in Hodeidah since late 2018 when the Saudi-backed government and the Houthis agreed a UN-sponsored pact for a truce in the port city [File: Manal Qaed/Reuters]

A United Nations monitoring mission has urged Yemen’s warring parties to hold new talks over the Hodeidah as the Saudi-led coalition attacked areas south of the port city, where Houthi fighters advanced in the wake of withdrawing coalition forces.

The call came on Monday, a day after the air raids began. They were the first since late 2018 when the Saudi-backed government and the Houthis agreed to a UN-sponsored pact for a truce in Hodeidah and a troop redeployment by both sides that never materialised.

The Saudi-led coalition spokesman General Turki al-Malki, in the first clarification on the abrupt withdrawal from around Hodeidah, said the redeployment was ordered to support other fronts and in line with the coalition’s “future plans”.

The UN mission overseeing the Hodeidah deal, UNMHA, and the Yemeni government team involved in it had said they had no advance notice, while some Yemeni coalition units have criticised the withdrawal, including Red Sea coast fighters.

UNMHA on Monday said the departure of joint Yemeni forces from Hodeidah city, al-Durayhimi, Bayt al Faqih and parts of al-Tahita and subsequent Houthi takeover was “a major shift” in the front lines that warranted discussions between the parties.

The coalition earlier said it carried out 11 air raids “outside the areas covered under the Stockholm pact”.

Houthi fighters on Monday clashed with Yemeni coalition forces in Hays district, south of Hodeidah city, two military sources told the news agency Reuters, following fighting in Al Faza on Sunday.

Thousands displaced

The UN said the shifting front lines had led to the displacement of thousands of people.

“Some 700 families (approximately 4,900 people) were displaced” to Khokha, more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Hodeidah, “while 184 other families (about 1,300 people) were displaced further south” to the Red Sea coastal town of Mokha, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said citing Yemeni government sources.

“No displacement has been reported within the areas that came under control of the de facto authorities,” it said in a statement Sunday, referring to the Houthis.

Citing aid partners on the ground, it said a 300-tent site for displaced people had been set up in the Khokha district, while the authorities were reportedly looking for another site to cope with the influx.

But the UN also said the Houthi advance could result in “improved movement for civilians” between the provinces of Hodeidah and Sanaa, and along roads connecting Hodeidah city with other districts.

It was not clear if the Hodeidah pullback was linked to what the coalition has described as a redeployment in the south, where sources said the Saudi military had left a main base in Aden, the interim seat of government.

Yemen has been mired in violence since the Houthis removed the internationally recognised government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014. The Saudi-led coalition intervened in the conflict in March 2015, aiming to restore the government.

UN and US efforts to engineer a nationwide ceasefire have stalled as the Houthis insist the coalition first lift a blockade on their areas, while Riyadh wants a simultaneous deal.

Source: News Agencies