SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Forces loyal to Yemen’s internationally recognized government have withdrawn from the strategic port city of Hodeida, allowing the rebels to retake key positions there, Yemeni officials and the United Nations said.
The development was a setback to the U.N.-brokered cease-fire in 2018 that ended fighting over Hodeida. The deal was seen as an important first step toward ending the broader conflict in Yemen, devastated by years of civil war, but was never fully implemented.
The pro-government militias, founded and bankrolled by the United Arab Emirates and known as Joint Forces, said late on Friday that they redeployed troops from Hodeida because there was no need for them to stay in the city after the 2018 deal.
The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition that has been waging war against the Iran-backed rebels to restore the internationally recognized government to power.
The Joint Forces also said the rebels, known as Houthis, repeatedly violated the 2018 deal.
On Saturday, security officials and residents said the rebels rounded up dozens of people they accuse of supporting the government.
Meanwhile, other pro-government forces that now remain in Hodeida, repelled a Houthi attack south of the coastal city, the officials said. At least three pro-government troops, including a field commander, were killed, they added.
A U.N. mission observing the cease-fire said it wasn’t notified before the withdrawal. It said pro-government forces pulled back from their positions in Hodeida and south of the city, allowing the rebels to take over the vacated positions.
The fighting in Hodeida erupted in mid-2018, after government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition moved in to wrest control of the strategic port from the Houthis. After months of clashes, the warring sides signed the case-fire deal in December that year and agreed to an exchange of more than 15,000 prisoners.
Yemen’s war began with the 2014 takeover of the capital of Sanaa by the Houthis, who control much of the country’s north. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war in 2015, determined to restore the government and oust the rebels.
The conflict has since become a regional proxy war that has killed tens of thousands of civilians and fighters. The war also created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushing the country to the brink of famine.
In recent months, the Houthis have attacked government forces in different areas, including the provinces of Shabwa, Bayda and Marib, despite calls by the U.N., the United States and others to stop fighting and engage in negotiations to find a settlement to the conflict.
Government forces pushed back the rebels in fierce battels south of the crucial city of Marib, the provincial capital, officials from both sides said Saturday.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, and the residents did so for fear of reprisals.