Yemen's Houthis begin withdrawal from Hodeidah ports in boost to peace deal

Yemen's Houthis offer unilateral withdrawal from key ports in coming days - UN

But they've yet to announce a withdrawal.

"The Houthis are staging a new ploy by handing over the ports of Hodeida, Saleef and Ras Issa to themselves without any monitoring by the United Nations and the government side", the government-appointed official said.

The United Nations secured the Hodeidah deal at peace talks in Sweden, the first in two years, to avert a full-scale assault on the port that risked so disrupting supply lines that it could trigger mass starvation.

The UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement "will monitor and report on this unilateral redeployment", Michael Lollesgaard, head of the team of UN observers and monitors, said in a UN statement.

Military equipment is expected to be removed in coming days and de-mining is also planned.

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Yemen's capital Sanaa is now held by the Iran-backed Houthis, who killed then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh in December 2017.

Formal verification of the first withdrawal will take place at the three ports on Tuesday, the United Nations said.

Hodeida is the main worldwide entry point for 70 percent of imports and humanitarian aid to Yemen, where the four-year civil war has killed an estimated 60,000 people and pushed much of the country to the brink of starvation.

It said the coastguard had taken over responsibility for security at the three sites after a Huthi rebel withdrawal that had begun Saturday.

"The government rejects any unilateral withdrawal of the rebel forces from Hodeidah without allowing for a joint monitoring and verification of implementing the Stockholm Agreement", said Iryani.

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Government officials had earlier cast doubts over the handover process, saying it was unclear who was taking control of the ports. A Saudi-led coalition soon intervened to back the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

"It's an attempt to misinform the worldwide community ahead of a meeting of the U.N. Security Council" on Yemen, he said.

Lollesgaard said the full implementation of the Hodeida deal remains instrumental to ensuring life-saving humanitarian access inside Yemen.

The Houthis on Saturday started withdrawing forces from Saleef port in Hodeidah under a UN-sponsored deal that had been stalled for months, a Reuters witness said, reviving hopes for peace efforts to end the four-year war.

It wants to restore port functions as soon as possible, and boost shipments of relief supplies to help almost 10 million people on the brink of starvation.

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He said the rebels had been forced to act unilaterally after the Saudi-backed government repeatedly delayed a parallel pullback from parts of the city of Hodeida that it had pledged to make under the truce deal. Coalition forces, now massed four km from Hodeidah port on the edges of the city, would retreat one km from "Kilo 8" and Saleh districts.

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