Yemen’s Houthi group has agreed to withdraw forces from three key ports under a United Nations-brokered peace deal, according to the UN.
The group will unilaterally redeploy from the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Isa over four days, starting on Saturday, the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah agreement said.
In a statement late on Friday, the mission’s Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) said it was important that the troop withdrawal be followed by “the committed, transparent and sustained actions of the parties to fully deliver on their obligations”.
The committee drew up the redeployment plans under a pact agreed last December in Sweden, the first major breakthrough in peace efforts to end a war that has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
The UN mission will monitor the redeployment, a first step towards concluding the peace agreement, the statement said, adding that it must be followed by “the committed, transparent and sustained actions of the parties to fully deliver on their obligations”.
Al Jazeera’s Diplomatic Editor James Bays, reporting from the UN headquarters in New York, cautioned it was “too early to say” whether Friday’s announcement signalled an “actual breakthrough”.
“The Stockholm deal in December, [brokered] almost six months ago, said the Houthis should do this and they haven’t done it yet,” Bays said.
“If the Houthis don’t do it this time, it could collapse the whole [peace] process,” he added.
The UN statement did not mention any reciprocal move by pro-government forces, who are backed by a Saudi-UAE-led military coalition.
Under the agreement, pro-government forces are also expected to leave positions around Hodeidah city’s outskirts in the initial redeployment, before a second phase in which both sides pull back further.
Moammar al-Eryani, Yemen’s information minister, said in a tweet shortly after the UN’s announcement that the offer of redeployment was “inaccurate and misleading”, however.
Al-Eryani added that any withdrawal that did not allow for joint monitoring and verification was unacceptable.
The coalition allege the Houthis use Hodeidah as a landing point to smuggle weapons supplied by Iran into Yemen, a charge the Houthis have denied.
Humanitarian officials have long pleaded with Yemen’s warring sides to spare the port, which serves as the entry point for the bulk of Yemen’s commercial imports and a lifeline for aid supplies.
The conflict in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country and home to an estimated 28 million people, began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by Houthi rebels, who toppled the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Concerned by the rise of the Houthis, believed to be backed by Iran, the Saudi-UAE-led military coalition launched an intervention in 2015 in the form of a massive air campaign aimed at reinstalling Hadi’s government.
The subsequent fighting and an ensuing economic collapse has unleashed the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis, pushing millions of people to the brink of starvation.