DUBAI: The UN’s envoy to Yemen called on Sunday for pro-government forces and rebels to respect a cease-fire in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, after repeated clashes between the two sides threatened to unravel a hard-won accord hammered out in Sweden last week.
“The special envoy expects the two parties to respect their obligations as per the text and spirit of the Stockholm Agreement and to engage in the immediate implementation of its provisions,” envoy Martin Griffiths tweeted.
He said the UN was working with Yemen’s internationally recognized government and the Iran-backed Houthi militia to ensure the accord on Hodeidah reached on Thursday was “implemented timely and properly.”
The SE expects the two parties to respect their obligations as per the text and the spirit of the Stockholm Agreement, and to engage in the immediate implementation of its provisions. #Yemen
— OSE_Yemen (@OSE_Yemen) December 16, 2018
Clashes shook Hodeidah Sunday after air strikes and deadly fighting on the outskirts overnight, residents said.
UN chief Antonio Guterres warned 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.
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 (0200 GMT) on Sunday.
Another resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also reported ongoing fighting in the city, home to a lifeline port.
“There are sounds of jets and air strikes, but we don’t know what they are targeting,” he told AFP by telephone.
At least 29 fighters, including 22 Houthi rebels and seven pro-government troops, were killed on Saturday night in clashes and air strikes in Hodeidah province, a pro-government military source told AFP.
No other sources could confirm the death toll.
The pro-government source added that seven rebels were captured during a Houthi attack on Al-Durayhimi district, which lies about 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Hodeidah city.
Amb Haley remarks at #UNSC meeting: We congratulate @OSE_Yemen on bringing the parties in the #Yemen conflict together face-to-face for negotiations for the first time since 2016. https://t.co/BHk3H8aSQC
— U.S. Mission to KSA (@USAinKSA) December 16, 2018
The truce between Yemeni government forces, backed by an Arab coalition and the Houthi militia was due to be followed by the withdrawal of fighters from Hodeidah within days on both sides.
Under the deal, international monitors would be deployed in Hodeidah and all armed forces would pull back completely within 21 days of the start of the cease-fire.
Thursday’s cease-fire accord has been seen as the most significant step toward 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.
Encouraging news today from @OSE_Yemen consultations in Sweden. Negotiators made progress on a cease-fire and withdrawal of forces in Hudaydah. Peace is possible. Let’s make this the start of a new chapter for #Yemen. https://t.co/VBZL4VfIAp
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) December 13, 2018
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 the control of loyalists but besieged by the terrorist 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.
Severe food shortages mean that a high number of Yemenis have been dying in “very dramatic circumstances,” Guterres told a news conference in Doha.
“The fact that famine was not yet declared does not in any way diminish our huge concern with a very high level of hunger that exists in Yemen” and “people dying in very dramatic circumstances,” the UN chief said.
“Without peace, we will be facing in 2019 a much worse situation than today.”
On Friday, UN special envoy Martin Griffiths called for the urgent creation of a strong monitoring mechanism in the war-torn country.
“A robust and competent monitoring regime is not just essential. It is also urgently needed,” Griffiths told the UN Security Council.
He added that “allowing the UN the lead role in the ports is the vital first step.”
Diplomats said Guterres may propose a surveillance mechanism comprising 30 to 40 observers.
UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock has for months been warning of a worsening situation in Yemen and says the UN is asking for $4 billion to help suffering Yemenis next year.
“Millions of Yemenis still desperately need assistance and protection,” he said.