by Murad Abdo
ADEN, Yemen, Feb. 19 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations announced that representatives of Yemen's warring parties have agreed on the first phase of troop withdrawal from the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah.
According to the UN, the first phase of the agreement includes pulling warring forces out of the key port of Hodeidah and two smaller ports, as well as a UN facility holding enough grain to feed 3.7 million people for a month.
However, the chances for an immediate pull-out of warring forces from Hodeidah's ports in the near future are very slim and face many setbacks, Yemeni political observers say.
A few hours following the UN's announcement about reaching an agreement, the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels dispatched heavy military reinforcements to the frontlines in Hodeidah province, according to military sources.
Mohammed al-Ahmadi, a political and writer, told Xinhua that the Houthi rebels undermined all such attempts to achieve peace in Hodeidah and used previous agreements as a cover to rearrange their military operations.
"Houthis announced their acceptance to withdraw from Hodeidah's ports only through media reports, but on ground, they continue to mobilize their fighters in the areas under the group's control," said al-Ahmadi.
He said that some of the setbacks facing the agreement are that "the Houthis won't accept pro-government authorities to manage Hodeidah's ports and other facilities in Hodeidah following their withdrawal."
"Hopes of Yemenis to end this devastating conflict are always shocked by the insistence of the Houthis who are refusing to implement agreements and continue to occupy government institutions by military force," he added.
Speaking to Xinhua, Yasin Tamimi, a political analyst, said that placing new conditions by the Houthi leaders ahead of implementing the first phase of the agreement indicates that Hodeidah's agreement will not achieve positive results.
He said that "the Houthis demanded reopening of the international airport in Sanaa and submitting monthly salaries for the employees in the Houthi-controlled provinces as a precondition to go ahead in withdrawing their forces from Hodeidah."
Hodeidah is considered as a very significant geopolitical position for the Houthi rebels who will not accept losing it easily, he said, adding that "Yemen's western coastal areas are used as a gateway for the rebels to receive military support from their allies."
Earlier in the day, local medical officials told Xinhua that four people were killed when mortar shells fired by Houthi rebels landed on residential neighborhoods in Hays district of Hodeidah province.
On Monday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expected the implementation of the first phase of Hodeidah troop withdrawal "will be carried out immediately" by the Yemeni warring parties, a UN spokesman said.
A deal reached in Stockholm in December 2018 says the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels should withdraw troops from the city of Hodeidah and ports of Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Issa.
Hodeidah is the major Red Sea port in Yemen, which handles some 70 percent of the food and fuel imports into Yemen.
The Red Sea mills currently store enough grains to feed 3.7 million people for a month, which is at risk of rotting, the UN's World Food Program has said.
Cease-fire, as part of the Stockholm deal, has been in place in the region since December, but the Red Sea mills remain inaccessible to humanitarian workers.
Demilitarizing of the region is aimed at allowing humanitarian aid to reach Yemenis under the threat of famine because of the civil war now in its fourth year.
The Yemeni parties also agreed in principle on phase two of the mutual redeployment. The next meeting on troop withdrawal is expected to convene within a week with the aim to finalize an agreement on phase two.