0648 GMT October 20, 2019
Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the head of the movement’s Supreme Revolutionary Committee, said the withdrawal from Hodeida, as well as the two smaller ports of Salif and Ras Issa, started at 10 a.m. (0700 GMT), AP reported.
Sadek Dawad, a former Saudi-backed government negotiator, said that he welcomed the "first step of the first phase of redeployment" of forces in the area. He urged the UN to verify and watch the pullout.
The Houthi-run al-Masirah TV channel said UN observers are monitoring the forces' withdrawal.
Hodeida is the main international entry point for 70 percent of imports and humanitarian aid to Yemen, where the four-year Saudi 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 three million displaced. Thousands have died of malnutrition, preventable diseases and epidemics.
A cease-fire brokered by the UN in December in Sweden called for the mutual withdrawal of Houthi and former government forces from Hodeida, and the two smaller ports in the province.
The bloody conflict erupted in 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition intervened to back the former government Houthi fighters swept into the capital city of Sana’a.
An official said that the former government will meet with the head of the UN operation monitoring the cease-fire, Lt. Gen. Michael Lollesgaard.
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.
He said the full implementation of the Hodeida deal remains instrumental to ensuring life-saving humanitarian access into Yemen.
The UN-brokered deal was vague on who will control Hodeida's strategic ports after the Houthis withdraw, saying a "local force" would take over without specifying further.
The pullout was scheduled to take place two weeks after the cease-fire went into force on Dec. 18. The deadline was missed as the former government and the Houthis haggled over the interpretation of the deal.
The agreement in Sweden also included a prisoner exchange between the two sides, which has yet to be carried out.