In a ceremony held Saturday, Houthi rebel forces formally handed control of the strategic Port of Hodeidah over to units of the government of Yemen. Local divisions of the pre-war Yemeni coast guard will take over the port’s administration, under supervision from the United Nations.
However, the Saudi coalition backing the Yemeni government contested the legitimacy of the handover, suggesting that the units that are now taking control of the port may actually be loyal to the Houthi side. The chairman of the UN team in charge of implementing the ceasefire, General Patrick Cammaert (ret’d), “emphasized that any redeployment would only be credible if all parties and the United Nations are able to observe and verify that it is in line with the Stockholm Agreement.”
In return, under the terms of a ceasefire agreement negotiated earlier this month in Sweden, Saudi coalition forces will withdraw from occupied areas of the city of Hodeidah. Houthi fighters who previously guarded the port complex will be redeployed to these areas.
The Sweden agreement requires the conflict’s participants to allow aid to reach those in need by opening new humanitarian corridors within their respective areas of control. These corridors include the Hodeidah-Sana’a highway, which leads from Yemen’s busiest seaport to its largest city. So far, according to the UN, that highway has not been reopened in line with the accord.
The ceasefire agreement is seen as essential to resolving humanitarian concerns, especially regarding port operations. The UN has repeatedly warned that fighting near Hodeidah’s seaport could harm millions of Yemenis. An estimated eight million people in Yemen are considered food insecure, and the number may soon rise by an additional 3.5 million. As the port of Hodeidah handles the majority of the nation’s food imports, any shutdown could endanger the flow of the aid supplies that currently sustain much of the country’s population.