Yemeni gov't forces clash with Houthis in Hodeidah despite cease-fire

Source: Xinhua| 2019-02-21 04:19:09|Editor: Mu Xuequan
Video PlayerClose

by Murad Abdo

ADEN, Yemen, Feb. 20 (Xinhua) -- Intense clashes broke out between Yemen's government forces and the Houthi rebels in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah on Wednesday night despite the cease-fire brokered by the United Nations, an army commander told Xinhua.

The army's commander based in the Hodeidah said on anonymity that intense armed confrontations erupted between pro-government Giants Brigades and the Houthi rebels using heavily weapons in the city's eastern parts.

He said that fighters of the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attempted to launch an attack against government-controlled sites near the 22nd May hospital, sparking hours of armed confrontations.

"The army forces succeeded in confronting the Houthi rebels who were attempting to advance into government-controlled areas," the source said, adding that the "attack was aborted and Houthi attackers were forced to retreat."

A spokesman of the government forces confirmed to Xinhua in a phone call that the government-controlled sites in different areas of Hodeidah were targeted by shells and rocket-propelled grenades fired by Houthis.

Some of the Houthi-fired shells missed military targets and landed on residential areas, causing many injuries among civilians, according to the pro-government forces spokesman, Aseel Saqladi.

The fresh armed confrontations coincided with the UN announcement about reaching an agreement between the two warring rivals regarding withdrawal of troops from Hodeidah.

Yemeni observers said that the UN-brokered agreement to pullback warring forces from Hodeidah faces many setbacks and the chances to reach success are very slim.

Earlier in the day, leader of the government's representatives at the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) threatened to submit his resignation if the UN fails to withdraw Houthi rebels from Hodeidah's strategic port.

According to a government source, "a number of countries demanded the government's RCC representatives to accept plans for withdrawing army units from Hodeidah before implementing other provisions of the agreement."

"The RCC team refused the pressures and suggestions presented by those countries and threatened to submit resignation," the source said, adding that "the government's representatives insisted on full withdrawal of pro-Houthi troops first."

On Monday, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expected the implementation of the first phase of Hodeidah's troop withdrawal "will be carried out immediately" by the Yemeni warring parties, a UN spokesman said.

"There's always the need to have real impetus to implement on the ground, and we hope that now that we have the first phase agreed, it will be carried out immediately, and we are expecting that will happen on the ground," Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for the UN chief, told reporters at a regular briefing.

A deal reached in Stockholm in December 2018 said that the Yemeni government and the 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.

The cease-fire, as part of the Stockholm deal, has been in place in the region since last 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.