Yemen: Warring Parties Agree to Ceasefire in Hodeidah
UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths (Photo: Twitter)

In a major breakthrough for embattled civilians in Yemen, the warring sides of Houthi rebels and the exiled the government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi have agreed to a ceasefire around the key port area of Hodeidah.

United Nations Secretary-general Antonio Guterres announced the development on Thursday. "There is a ceasefire declared for the whole governorate of Hodeidah in the agreement and there will be both from the city and the harbour a withdrawal of all forces," he told reporters.

As part of the deal, Houthi rebel fighters will relinquish control of three of its ports - Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Isa. The ports would then fall under the control of "local forces", who would then send the ports' revenues to the country's Central Bank.

Guterres said the United Nations would play a "leading role" in monitoring the Red Sea port, which is currently controlled by the rebels, and facilitate aid access to the civilian population.

In addition, the rivals have reached a "mutual understanding" on Yemen's third city of Taiz, the scene of some of the most intense battles in the conflict.

UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths, who has been instrumental in the talks said the pullout should take place "within days". He added that the ceasefire would "open up the east-west road [that connects Hodeidah and Sanaa] so that a humanitarian pipeline, which is crucial to the people of Yemen, can start delivering aid".

The breakthrough in talks was marked by a highly symbolic gesture as Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani and rebel negotiator Mohammed Abdelsalam shook hands to loud applause. The agreement on the ceasefire came on the seventh and final day of the UN-brokered peace talks in Rimbo, Sweden.

The foreign ministers of UK, the UAE and Saudi Arabia were in Rimbo for the last day of negotiations.

However, a number of issues remain unresolved and a new round of talks with take place at the end of January, Antonio Guterres said.

No deal has yet been reached on the future of the airport in the capital Sanaa or on economic measures that are vital to help the country's population. Sanaa airport has been closed to commercial flights for nearly three years and Griffiths said its fate would be discussed at the next round.

The rebels control both Hodeidah and the capital Sanaa while the Saudi led-military coalition controls Yemen's maritime borders and airspace.

International pressure has been mounting to halt the fighting between the Iran-linked Houthis and the government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, backed by Saudi Arabia and its military allies.

The conflict has triggered what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with 14 million Yemenis now at the brink of mass starvation.

The Sweden talks mark the first meeting in two years between the northern Houthi rebels and the Hadi government that has been backed since 2015 by the Saudi-led coalition.

The next round of talks in January will focus on a framework for negotiations on a political process, which Antonio Guterres stressed was the only solution to the ugly conflict. (With PTI and AFP inputs)