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Yemen’s Houthi rebels begin withdrawal from Hodeida

A Houthi militant gestures as he secures the site of a protest by staffers of the Houthi-run Yemen's state oil company outside the United Nations offices to demand easing the restrictions on oil shipments to Houthi-held ports, in Sanaa, Yemen April 15, 2019.
A Houthi militant gestures as he secures the site of a protest by staffers of the Houthi-run Yemen's state oil company outside the United Nations offices to demand easing the restrictions on oil shipments to Houthi-held ports, in Sanaa, Yemen April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Yemen’s Houthi rebels began on Saturday a long-delayed withdrawal of their forces from the key port city of Hodeida, the group said, following the terms of a cease-fire. The U.N.-brokered agreement is aimed at alleviating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the head of the rebels’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee, said the pullout from Hodeida, as well as the two smaller ports of Salif and Ras Issa, started at 10 a.m. (0700 GMT).

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An official from the internationally recognized government said that they did not know the details of the Houthi withdrawal. He said the government will meet with the head of the U.N. operation monitoring the cease-fire, Lt. Gen. Michael Lollesgaard, later on Saturday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak with the media.

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Hodeida is the main international entry point for 70 per cent 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 famine. Nearly two thirds of Yemenis are in need of some sort of aid and 3 million displaced. Thousands have died of malnutrition, preventable diseases and epidemics.

A cease-fire brokered by the U.N. in December in Sweden had called for the mutual withdrawal of rebel and government forces from Hodeida, and the two smaller ports in the province. The bloody conflict erupted in September 2014, when Shiite Houthi rebels swept into the capital city of Sanaa. A Saudi-led coalition rapidly intervened to back the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

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Lollesgaard said Friday that the Houthis’ withdrawal from the three ports marked the first practical step toward realizing the cease-fire.

He added that the Houthis must commit to following fully through with the redeployment, which is expected to take place over three days.

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

The Houthi-run al-Masirah TV channel said U.N. observers are monitoring the forces’ withdrawal.

The U.N.-brokered deal was vague on who will control Hodeida’s strategic ports after the rebels withdraw, saying a “local force” would take over without specifying further.

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The cease-fire agreement in Sweden also included a prisoner exchange between the two sides, which has yet to be carried