Yemen’s Houthi rebels hand over con­trol of port

The Sun News (Sunday) - - News - BY AHMED AL-HAJ

Yemen’s Shi­ite rebels on Sat­ur­day handed over con­trol of the main port in the Red Sea city of Hodeida to the coun­try’s navy and coast guard un­der U.N. su­per­vi­sion, se­cu­rity of­fi­cials said, in a sig­nif­i­cant step in the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a deal reached dur­ing peace talks in Swe­den ear­lier this month.

The han­dover is the first in a se­ries of con­fi­dence­build­ing mea­sures agreed to in Swe­den that could pave the way for a po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment of Yemen’s 4-year-old war pit­ting the Iran-aligned rebels known as Houthis against the in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized govern­ment backed since 2015 by a Saudi-led coali­tion.

The rebels con­trol most of north­ern Yemen, in­clud­ing the cap­i­tal Sanaa, while their war foes con­trol much of the south, in­clud­ing the Ara­bian Sea port city of Aden, where the ex­iled govern­ment is lo­cated.

The two sides have ob­served a cease-fire in Hodeida for more than a week, end­ing months of fierce fight­ing be­tween the two sides for con­trol of Hodeida. A U.N. team led by a Dutch of­fi­cer ar­rived last week in the city to mon­i­tor the cease-fire. The U.N. team is led by re­tired Dutch Maj. Gen. Pa­trick Cam­maert.

About 70 per­cent of Yemen’s im­ports come through Hodeida, and the Swe­den deal is de­signed in part to fa­cil­i­tate the ar­rival of re­lief sup­plies to push Yemen back from the brink of famine. The fight­ing has killed tens of thou­sands of peo­ple, and has driven mil­lions to hunger. The U.N. calls it the world’s worst hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter.

The two sides also agreed in Swe­den to ex­change pris­on­ers of war in a deal in­volv­ing thou­sands cap­tured from both sides. The im­ple­men­ta­tion of that deal is yet to be­gin.

Govern­ment of­fi­cials main­tain that the Houthis are deny­ing the pres­ence in their de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties of nearly 3,000 from a to­tal of about 8,500 pris­on­ers whose names were sub­mit­ted to the rebels.

The se­cu­rity of­fi­cials said the Houthis have taken ad­van­tage of their con­trol of Hodeida to place their fighters in both the navy and the coast guard, some­thing that has been a ma­jor source of con­cern for the govern­ment side. The two sides also agreed over the week­end to open “hu­man­i­tar­ian cor­ri­dors” ex­tend­ing from Hodeida to Sanaa to al­low re­lief sup­plies to peace­fully pass through.

How­ever, the govern­ment side com­plains that the pro­posed cor­ri­dors have been heav­ily mined by the Houthis. There was no im­me­di­ate com­ment from the rebels’ side on this charge.

The se­cu­rity of­fi­cials said the Houthis are ex­pected in the next few days to hand over con­trol of two more ports north of Hodeida – the oil ter­mi­nal of Rass Issa and Salif, which has been used for in­com­ing re­lief sup­plies – un­der the Swe­den deal. The govern­ment side, on its part, would re­de­ploy its forces out of the eastern reaches of Hodeida as a first step.

THE REBELS CON­TROL MOST OF NORTH­ERN YEMEN, IN­CLUD­ING THE CAP­I­TAL SANAA, WHILE THEIR WAR FOES CON­TROL MUCH OF THE SOUTH, IN­CLUD­ING THE ARA­BIAN SEA PORT CITY OF ADEN, WHERE THE EX­ILED GOVERN­MENT IS LO­CATED.

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