Hodeidah calm after ceasefire takes effect

Sanaa: Yemen’s flashpoint city of Hodeidah was calm on Tuesday as a ceasefire took effect and a team including members of the warring sides prepared to monitor the truce agreed at talks in Sweden.
A lasting ceasefire would be a major step in efforts to end Yemen’s devastating war, which has killed thousands and left 14 million people on the brink of famine.
The truce which came into force overnight was due to be followed by a team of observers deploying “within 24 hours”, a United Nations official said.
The Redeployment Coordination Committee includes members of the Saudi-backed government and Ansar Allah fighter but is chaired by the UN, said the official who requested anonymity.
“Both parties said publicly they are abiding by the ceasefire,” the official said. The observers are due to oversee the implementation of the truce, the withdrawal of both warring parties from Hodeidah city and the pullout of Ansar Allah from its major ports.
The committee chair is expected to report to the UN Security Council on a weekly basis, as part of a diplomatic push to end the conflict which erupted in 2014.
The war between the Ansar Allah and troops loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi escalated in 2015, when a Saudi-led military coalition stepped in on the government’s side.
Since then some 10,000 people have been killed, according to the World Health Organization, but some rights groups believe the toll is far higher.
The ceasefire was meant to enter into force at midnight (21:00 GMT) on Monday but clashes continued until 03:00 am, pro-government sources and residents said.
Calm held on Tuesday morning in Hodeidah city, whose port is the gateway for the vast majority of imports to Yemen.
“There has been complete calm since 03:00 am Yemen time in the city of Hodeidah,” a military source loyal to the government said.
Residents confirmed by phone that there has been no fighting between the government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition and Iran-aligned Huthi rebels since 03:00 am.
But it was not possible to determine if the halt in fighting was in response to the ceasefire or just a temporary stoppage.
Residents said that daily fighting would usually be fierce in the evening and at night, before coming to a standstill at dawn. The two warring sides have welcomed the truce in the strategic Red Sea province. The agreement reached last week included an “immediate ceasefire” in Hodeida and its surrounds, but the truce was delayed as fighting continued.
UN envoy Martin Griffiths said on Sunday that the UN was working with both sides to ensure the ceasefire accord was “implemented timely and properly”.
In addition to the withdrawal of fighters from Hodeidah, the agreement included a planned prisoner swap involving some 15,000 detainees.
A “mutual understanding” was also reached to facilitate aid deliveries to Yemen’s third city Taiz — under the control of loyalists but besieged by Ansar Allah.
The two sides have agreed to meet again in late January for more talks to define the framework for negotiations on a comprehensive peace settlement.
Hodeidah residents said they hoped the truce would lead to lasting peace.“We are hopeful that things will go back to the way they were and that there would be no aggression, no air strikes and lasting security,” Amani Mohammed said.
Another resident, Mohammed al Saikel, said he was optimistic the ceasefire would pave the way for a broader truce.
“We are hopeful about this ceasefire in Hodeidah and one for Yemen in general,” he said.
“We will reach out in peace to whoever does the same.” — AFP