Yemen’s Houthi movement on Saturday started withdrawing forces from Saleef port in Hodeidah province under a United Nations-sponsored peace deal that had been stalled for months, a Reuters witness said.
The move, which has yet to be verified by the U.N. and accepted by the Saudi-led coalition, is the first major step in implementing a deal reached by the Saudi-backed government and the Iran-aligned Houthis for a ceasefire and troop withdrawal in Hodeidah last year, part of international efforts to end the four-year conflict.
U.N. teams were overseeing the Houthi redeployment in Saleef, used for grain, as other teams headed to the second port of Ras Isa, used for oil, to start implementing the Houthi withdrawal from there, according to the witness.
“The coast guards have taken over in Saleef,” said the witness, who was at the port.
The U.N.’s Redeployment Coordination Committee said earlier in a statement that the Houthis would make an “initial unilateral redeployment” between May 11 and May 14 from Saleef and Ras Isa as well as the country’s main port of Hodeidah.
It said the redeployment would allow the United Nations to take “a leading role” in supporting the Red Sea Ports Corporation in managing the ports and enhance U.N. checks on cargoes.
There has been no comment so far from the Saudi-led Sunni Muslim military coalition that has massed forces outside Hodeidah, which handles the bulk of Yemen’s imports and aid supplies.
Hodeidah has become the focus of the war since last year, when the coalition twice tried to seize its port to cut off the Houthis’ main supply line.
The peace deal had stalled since January amid deep mistrust among the warring parties in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands and pushed the Arabian peninsula nation to the brink of famine.
It calls for coalition forces to leave positions around the outskirts of Hodeidah in the initial redeployment, before a second phase in which both sides pull back further.