Air strikes and clashes hit Hodeidah despite ceasefire

Dubai: Clashes shook Yemen’s flashpoint city of Hodeidah on Sunday after air strikes and deadly fighting on the outskirts overnight, residents said, despite a UN-brokered ceasefire between pro-government forces and fighters.
The warring parties exchanged accusations of violating the ceasefire accord that took effect on Friday but which quickly came under pressure.
A resident of the city reached by telephone said that the clashes were “fierce” and the sounds of jets could be heard throughout the night until about 5 am on Sunday.
Another resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also reported ongoing fighting in the city, home to a vital Red Sea port.
“There are sounds of jets and air strikes, but we don’t know what they are targeting,” he said by telephone.
At least 29 fighters, including 22 Ansar Allah fighters and seven pro-government troops, were killed on Saturday night in clashes and air strikes in Hodeidah province, a pro-government military source said.
No other sources could confirm the death toll.
The pro-government source added that seven fighters were captured during an Ansar Allah attack on Al Durayhimi district, which lies about 20 kilometres south of Hodeidah city.
According to the insurgents’ Al-Masirah television on Sunday, there were ongoing clashes and air strikes in the city and its outskirts.
The fighting comes days after a UN-backed ceasefire came into effect, part of a hard-won accord struck in Sweden between the two sides.
The truce between Yemeni government forces, backed by a military coalition, and the Ansar Allah fighters was due to be followed by the withdrawal of fighters from Hodeidah within days on both sides.
In comments published Saturday on the Saba news agency, the Ansar Allah accused pro-government forces of shelling residential neighbourhoods in Hodeidah city.
Thursday’s ceasefire accord has been seen as the most significant step towards ending the devastating conflict in Yemen, where more than 14 million people are on the brink of famine.
The United States commended on Sunday the two sides that took part in the Sweden negotiations for “making progress on key initiatives”, calling for a de-escalation of tensions.
“Moving forward, all must continue to engage, de-escalate tensions, and cease ongoing hostilities,” the US embassy in Riyadh tweeted, echoing remarks by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday.
“This is the best way to give these and future consultations a chance to succeed.
“The work ahead will not be easy. Peace is possible. The end of these consultations can be the beginning of a new chapter for Yemen.”
A prisoner swap involving some 15,000 detainees is planned and a “mutual understanding” has been reached to facilitate aid deliveries to Yemen’s third city Taiz — under control of loyalists but besieged by fighters.
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.
UN special envoy Martin Griffiths called for the urgent creation of a strong monitoring mechanism in Yemen. “A robust and competent monitoring regime is not just essential. It is also urgently needed,” Griffiths told the UN Security Council on Friday.
He added that “allowing the UN the lead role in the ports is the vital first step”.
Diplomats said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres may propose a surveillance mechanism comprising 30 to 40 observers. Some countries could send observers on a reconnaissance mission before the formal adoption of a resolution, diplomats said. – AFP