Yemen's Hodeida calm in wake of ceasefire; residents hopeful

A man examining the shell of a factory damaged during air strikes. A ceasefire in Yemen's battleground port city of Hodeida came into effect at midnight on Monday, stopping heavy clashes between the Saudi-backed government forces and Iran-aligned Hou
A man examining the shell of a factory damaged during air strikes. A ceasefire in Yemen's battleground port city of Hodeida came into effect at midnight on Monday, stopping heavy clashes between the Saudi-backed government forces and Iran-aligned Houthi rebels. A prisoner swop involving some 15,000 detainees is planned.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SANAA • Yemen's flashpoint city of Hodeida was calm yesterday, following heavy clashes that erupted after a UN-brokered ceasefire started at midnight, pro-government sources and residents said.

The truce agreed at the UN-sponsored peace talks in Sweden came into effect at midnight on Monday, but sources said heavy clashes and air raids continued even after the deadline.

"There has been complete calm since 3am Yemen time in the city of Hodeida," a military source loyal to the government said yesterday.

Residents confirmed by phone that there had been no fighting between government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition and Iran-aligned Houthi rebels since 3am.

But it was not possible to determine if the halt in fighting was in response to the ceasefire or just a temporary stop.

Residents said that daily fighting would usually be fierce in the evening and at night, before coming to a standstill at dawn.

The two warring sides have welcomed the truce in the strategic Red Sea province. Both the internationally-recognised government and the Houthi rebels said they would comply with the ceasefire.

The truce is supposed to be followed by the withdrawal of fighters from Hodeida, whose port is the entry point for the vast majority of imports to Yemen.

A prisoner swop involving some 15,000 detainees is planned and a "mutual understanding" was reached to facilitate aid deliveries to Yemen's third city Taiz, under the control of loyalists but besieged by rebels. The two sides agreed to meet again next month for more talks to define the framework for negotiations on a comprehensive peace deal.

Ahead of the ceasefire coming into force, residents in Hodeida city hoped on Monday that it would lead to lasting peace.

"We are hopeful that things will go back to the way they were and that there would be no aggression, no air strikes, and lasting security," said Mr Amani Mohammed.

Another Hodeida resident, Mr Mohammed al-Saikel, said he was optimistic the ceasefire would pave the way for a broader truce. "We are hopeful about this ceasefire in Hodeida and one for Yemen. We will reach out in peace to whoever does the same," he added.

Impoverished Yemen has been mired in fighting between the Houthi rebels and troops loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi since 2014. The war escalated in 2015 when a Saudi-led military coalition stepped in on the government's side.

Since then, some 10,000 people have been killed, according to the World Health Organisation, but some rights groups believe the toll is far higher.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2018, with the headline 'Yemen's Hodeida calm in wake of ceasefire; residents hopeful'. Print Edition | Subscribe