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Fragile calm in Yemen's ceasefire hub

December 18, 2018

Yemen's Hodeida city is reported calm after the start of a UN-brokered ceasefire agreed in Sweden. The Red Sea port city, crucial for aid to feed starving civilians, had seen clashes even beyond a midnight deadline.

Jemen Hafenstadt Hudaida
November 2018: a pro-government forces' tank on Hodeida's eastern outskirtsImage: Getty Images/AFP/S. Al-Obeidi

Hodeida residents and a government military source said calm was established around 3 a.m. local time Tuesday between Iran-aligned Houthi rebels controlling densely populated suburbs and Saudi-backed government forces.

The ceasefire in the rebel-held city and surrounding Hodeida region was agreed last Thursday in Sweden as an initial step in ending four years of civil war, with further talks due in late January.

Read more: Ceasefire agreed for Hodeida in Sweden

Famine looms for the bulk of Yemen's 29-million population, with 14 million in need of food aid in 2019, according to UN chief Antonio Guterres.

Local authorities are to run the city and the region's three ports under UN supervision, with both sides required to withdraw fighters and not bring in reinforcements. A prisoner swap is also planned.

"The Redeployment Coordination Committee in charge of implementing the Hodeida Agreement will start its work swiftly," UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths said on Monday.

Local residents 'hopeful'

Hodeida resident, Mohammed al-Saikel, said locals were "hopeful about this ceasefire in Hodeida and one for Yemen in general."

"We will reach out in peace to whoever does the same," he said.

In New York, UN diplomats said the Security Council was considering a British-circulated draft resolution that asks Guterres to outline plans for ceasefire monitoring and a strengthening UN presence in Hodeida city.

This would also apply to two other ports, Salif and Ras Issa.

Fierce fighting in recent days

Fierce fighting and air strikes in recent days  claimed the lives of at least 29 fighters, including 22 Houthi rebels, a pro-government source told AFP.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said its teams had been treating victims of gunshots, shelling and air strikes. It urged all sides "to respect the presence of civilians and health infrastructures."

Read more: German arms exports condemned

Houthi rebels control most towns and cities, including Yemen's capital Sanaa, where they ousted the government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in 2014.

The government, backed by a Saudi-led military coalition, is currently based in the southern Yemeni port of Aden, and holds sway over maritime and border areas.

Death toll disputed, but high

Since 2016 the war has claimed more than 60,000 lives, both combatants and civilians, according to the US-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) — a purported toll far higher than UN estimates.

According to the study, 28,000 have been killed in 2018 — 68 percent up on 2017. In November alone, the research group claimed that more than 3,000 have perished.

The ACLED figures did not include the last months of 2014, when Houth rebels captured Sanaa and much of Yemen's north, nor casualties in 2015, when the Saudi-led military coalition entered the war on the side of the government.

ipj/rc (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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