Houthi rebels begin withdrawal from key ports in Yemen

Houthi rebels begin withdrawal from key ports in Yemen

The RCC committee, led by Danish Lieutenant General Michael Lollesgaard, head of the United Nations observer team in Hodeidah, drew up the redeployment plans under the pact agreed in Sweden, the first major breakthrough in peace efforts to end a war that has killed tens of thousands and pushed Yemen to the brink of starvation.

The Danish general said he welcomed "the offer and intention" of the Iran-backed Shiite rebels to withdraw from the three lifeline ports.

On Friday, UN declared that Yemen's Houthi rebels agreed to unilaterally redeploy forces out of the three key ports in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah within four days beginning from Saturday.

The governor of Hodeidah, al-Hassan al-Taher, stated that the move did not comply with the agreed upon terms of the Stockholm Agreement.

The withdrawal of rebel forces will be completed by Tuesday, the head of the United Nations redeployment committee, General Michael Lollesgaard, said in a statement.

However, later on Saturday information minister Muammar al-Iryani for the Saudi-backed Yemeni government dismissed the pullout from Hodeida as a "show" meant to "disinform the worldwide community".

The UN mission will monitor the redeployment, a first step towards concluding the peace agreement, the UN statement said, adding that it must be followed by "the committed, transparent and sustained actions of the parties to fully deliver on their obligations".

Moammar al-Eryani, information minister of Yemen's internationally recognised government, also dismissed the redeployment, alleging it was an attempt to "disinform the worldwide community".

According to United Nations diplomats, Houthis had refused to pull back from the ports because they were anxious that the Saudi-led coalition would move in to seize the facilities.

They are also expected to leave positions around the outskirts of Hodeida in the initial redeployment, before a second phase in which both sides pull back further.

The withdrawal from Hodeida, Salif and Ras Issa ports started at 10 a.m. local time (0700 UTC), said Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the head of the rebels' Supreme Revolutionary Committee. The conflict has killed tens of thousands people, many of them civilians, relief agencies say.

Humanitarian officials have long pleaded with Yemen's warring sides to spare Hodeidah, which serves as the entry point for the bulk of Yemen's commercial imports and a lifeline for vital aid supplies.

Yemen has been engulfed in an armed conflict between the government forces led by President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi and the Houthi rebels for years.

Concerned by the rise of the rebel group, believed to be backed by Iran, the Saudi-UAE-led military coalition launched an intervention in 2015 in the form of a massive air campaign aimed at reinstalling Hadi's government.

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