by Mohamed al-Azaki
SANAA, Feb. 21 (Xinhua) -- It is hoped that Stockholm agreement on Yemen's key port of Hodeidah will be the first step to end the four-year civil war.
However, experts are skeptical of sensitive issues that caused two previous negotiations in Switzerland in late 2015 and Kuwait in 2016 to collapse.
The toughest issues have not been put on the table, including disarming rebels' ballistic missiles and holding early presidential elections to end the legitimacy of exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
According to a UN statement, other major issues will be on the table of negotiations in the next round of talks once the Hodeidah truce deal is fully implemented.
The Stockholm truce deal was reached in December 2018, focusing on Hodeidah as a starting point of the ongoing peace process sponsored by the UN and backed by Britain and the United States.
The deal was considered a major breakthrough into the four-year conflict that has killed more than 10,000 of people, displaced 3 million others and pushed more than 20 million people to the brink of major famine.
The cease-fire went into force on Dec. 18 and has been largely held in Hodeidah, the country's key port which is the main gateway for the much-needed food imports and humanitarian aid.
The UN said this week that both Yemeni warring parties have agreed to withdraw their forces from the city's ports and surrounding outskirts in line with Stockholm peace deal and that the troops' withdrawal would take place within days.
The deal will see Houthi rebels withdraw from three ports of the Red Sea city on first phase and hand over management of the ports to a UN supervisory team, while the government troops pull back from the southern outskirts. In addition, both rival sides should also begin to exchange thousands of war prisoners.
Abdulaziz Omar, a Yemeni political analyst, said the peace process is very complicated and will take "maybe" very long time to end the conflict.
"It's the right time to drive the warring parties into the first process toward reaching an inclusive political settlement, as both rival forces have been exhausted by daily fighting which badly affected the whole nation," Omar said.
"It's also the right time to begin moving into the peace course because both warring parties have run out of money after four years of fighting and they are now in dire need for cash to continue to hold on to power," Omar told Xinhua.
In the past two years, both rival forces have made no major progress on the ground as fighting has kept in the same frontlines.
"The conflict will never be solved by a military solution," Omar added.
In September 2014, the rebels advanced from their main mountainous stronghold in the far northerner province of Saada into the capital Sanaa and other major cities, seizing power and forcing Hadi and his government into exile in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
In March 2015, the Saudi-led Arab military coalition intervened in Yemen, launching a major air and ground campaign to back the government troops loyal to Hadi and managed in few months to liberate Aden and forced the rebels to withdraw from other southern and eastern cities.
Military experts suggested to recapture Sanaa, the loyal troops should first retake control of Hodeidah port, which is the main gate of lifeline imports to all northern cities.
The government troops backed by the coalition forces moved on the plan and recaptured Mocha town, about 170 km south of Hodeidah, from the rebels in preparation to advance to Hodeidah. However, the battle to retake Hodeidah took them more than five months until they finally secured the small town early 2017, that underlined the battle for Hodeidah would cost much of lives and time.
In June 2018, the troops advanced into the southern coastal outskirts of Hodeidah in preparation to storm the city but the coalition halted its military advance to support the peace efforts of the UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths who successfully gathered the warring parties in Stockholm to strike the partial truce agreement at the end of the same year.
Humanitarian aid agencies have warned that the attack to retake Hodeidah will risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians living at the verge of starvation in the besieged port city and will cause what the UN calls the humanitarian most catastrophe in the history.
Mohammed Alawy, a military expert, said the starting step of the peace plan from Hodeidah was a "wisdom."
"The truce aimed to secure the Red Sea international shipping lanes and push the conflict away from the lifeline ports," Alawy told Xinhua.
"The warring parties have agreed on Hodeidah truce deal after a lot of international pressures from Britain and the United States," Alawy said.
The Houthi rebels have said they would accept any political solution that guarantees their rights in the power.
"Giving that the Houthis are now controlling maybe two-thirds of the population and that they are at the peak of their power, they would go to implement the starting steps of the peace deal but they are more likely not to surrender their weapons and ballistic missiles," Alawy said.
"The rebels would also not accept to negotiate any legitimacy of a weak president in exile and these issues were behind much of failure of previous peace talks in Switzerland and Kuwait," Alawy said.