Rebels set to begin pullout from Yemen aid port

Sanaa (AFP) –


Yemeni rebels confirmed Saturday they were beginning a unilateral withdrawal from the lifeline port of Hodeida in a bid to kickstart implementation of a December truce brokered by the UN.

Hodeida is the main entry point for the bulk of Yemen's imports and humanitarian aid, providing a lifeline to millions of civilians who have been pushed to the brink of famine by more than four years of devastating conflict.

The head of the rebels' Supreme Revolutionary Committee, Mohammed al-Huthi, said fighters would start pulling back at 10 am (0700 GMT).

He said the rebels had been forced to act unilaterally after the Saudi-backed government repeatedly delayed a parallel pullback from parts of the city of Hodeida that it had pledged to make under the truce deal.

"The (rebel) army and committees are withdrawing unilaterally as a result of the refusal of the countries of the US-British-Saudi-Emirati aggression and their allies to implement the (Stockholm) accord," the rebel leader said on Twitter.

The United Nations announced late Friday that the rebels will begin a long-delayed withdrawal from Hodeida and two other Red Sea ports on Saturday, the first step on the ground since the ceasefire deal was struck in Sweden.

The withdrawal of rebel forces will be completed by Tuesday, the head of the UN redeployment committee, General Michael Lollesgaard, said in a statement.

A UN observer mission led by Lollesgaard will monitor the withdrawal.

The information minister of the internationally recognised government, Moammer al-Eryani, welcomed the UN announcement but warned the rebels might be trying to "mislead" the international community.

"We welcome any measures towards the implementation of the Sweden agreement on redeployment in ports in Hodeida province and warn of attempts by the militia to mislead the international community and the (UN) Security Council before the next meeting," Eryani tweeted.

He said any unilateral redeployment by the rebels without control and joint verification "cannot be accepted."

Lollesgaard welcomed the rebel plan "to undertake an initial unilateral redeployment from the ports of Hodeida, Saleef and Ras Issa."