0609 GMT August 19, 2019
The Houthi movement and the Saudi-backed former government agreed in talks in December to withdraw troops by Jan. 7 from Hodeida – a lifeline for millions facing famine – under a truce accord aimed at averting a full-scale assault on the port and paving the way for negotiations to end the four-year-old war.
"The parties reached an agreement on Phase 1 of the mutual redeployment of forces," the UN spokesman's office said in a statement without giving details on what was agreed, Reuters reported.
Under Phase 1, the Houthis would withdraw from the ports of Hodeida, Saleef, used for grains, and Ras Isa, used for oil. This would be met by a retreat of Saudi-led coalition forces from the eastern outskirts of Hodeida, where battles raged before a ceasefire went into effect on Dec. 18.
The Houthis control Hodeida, the main entry point for the bulk of Yemen's commercial and aid imports, while other Yemeni forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition loyal to former government are massed on the outskirts.
The UN statement said the two sides also agreed "in principle" on Phase 2, entailing full redeployment of both parties' forces in Hodeida province.
Two sources involved in the negotiations, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of discussions, said both sides had yet to agree on a withdrawal timeline or on a mechanism for local forces to take over security at the ports and city.
"The UN is still discussing how to reduce the gap between the two sides on how to choose the forces that will control the city," one source said.
The parties could decide within 7-10 days on where they would reposition forces, said the other source, adding that Houthi fighters could pull back as far as 20 km (15 miles) from the port.
Disagreement on withdrawal had delayed opening humanitarian corridors needed to reach 10 million people on the brink of starvation in Yemen, the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula.
Under the first phase, the two sides agreed to reopen main roads linking Hodeida to the Houthi-held capital Sana’a and in Yemen's third city of Taiz, a UN source said.
They also agreed to enable access to Red Sea Mills, which holds some 50,000 tons of World Food Programme grain, enough to feed 3.7 million people for a month, the source said. Access to the site has been cut off since September due to fighting.
The Hodeida truce has largely been respected but there have been intermittent skirmishes in flashpoints on the city's edges.
Hodeida became the focus of the war last year when the coalition twice launched an offensive to seize the port and weaken the Houthis by cutting of their main supply line.
The alliance led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intervened in 2015 to restore the former government that resigned from power in Sana’a in late 2014.