Just days after the possibilities of a prisoner exchange between the Houthis and the Saudi-backed coalition in Hodeidah in Yemen spurred hopes of the ceasefire continuing, the latter has approached the UN, claiming that the Houthis had violated the ceasefire. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the Yemeni government of Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi demanded that the UN force the Houthis to stick to the ceasefire, providing a list of violations, Incidentally, the coalition attacked a drone storage site of the Houthis near the capital, Sanaa on Thursday.
Agency reports also indicate that UAE minister Anwar Gargash met UN secretary general Antonio Guterres and sought action, adding ominously, “We do not want to launch an offensive in Hodeidah.” There was no mention of ceasefire violations which the Houthis have accused the coalition of committing.
Earlier this week, the United Nations (UN) special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, paid a brief visit to the Red Sea port city. This was his first visit since the ceasefire took effect on in December 2018. The two opposing sides reached the ceasefire agreement in Sweden during peace talks, brokered by the UN. The agreement calls for a full ceasefire, to be followed by the withdrawal of armed forces. These clauses remain to be fulfilled by both sides.
While the special envoy was on his visit, the Houthis announced that they had released a Saudi prisoner. The captured Saudi soldier was handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). In a statement released on Tuesday, the Houthis said, “The sick Saudi soldier Musa Awagi will be transported to his country through an ICRC plane today.” Griffiths welcomed the initiative, tweetingr, “the SE (special envoy) welcomes the unconditional release by AA (Ansar Allah or Houthi group) of the sick Saudi prisoner, whom the ICRC will transfer from Sanaa to Riyadh today.” After the freed Saudi prisoner arrived in Riyadh, the Saudi-led coalition said that seven Houthi prisoners would be released in a reciprocatory gesture, Saudi state-television reported.
There are over 15,000 war prisoners from all the warring parties, including the Houthi rebels, the exiled Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition which supports the government. The two sides agreed to exchange almost all of the 15,000 detainees, having submitted a list of prisoners’ names to the UN mediators.
Hodeidah has been in the news for long, especially because its port serves as the main entry point for the supply of life-saving food and medical supplies, humanitarian aid to the majority of the impoverished population of conflict-ridden Yemen. Hodeidah has been controlled by the Houthis since 2014, and has been the battleground of fierce fighting between them and the pro-government forces, backed by the Saudi coalition, which launched a massive offensive to recapture the port city in June 2018. While the Houthis controls the internal areas of Hodeidah, the Saudi coalition troops are stationed on its outskirts. Both disagree on who will control the city and the port after the full withdrawal of forces clause of the ceasefire agreement is implemented.
The ceasefire agreement restored the much needed calm to the city, despite reports of some sporadic violence and accusations from both sides.
The war in Yemen has been going on for more than four years now, after the Houthis overthrew the government of Yemeni president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and seized much of the northern part of the country, including the capital, Sanaa, as well as Hodeidah. The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015, in support of Hadi’s government. More than 10,000 people have been killed as a result of the ongoing violence and conflict, according to the World Health Organization, although many human rights groups say that the real death toll could actually be more than five times higher. Three million Yemeni civilians have been displaced from their homes, villages and cities. The war has also led to 14 million Yemenis being pushed to the brink of famine. The UN described it as the ‘world’s worst humanitarian crisis’, with UN officials estimating that almost 80% of the population of Yemen, almost 24 million people, are dependent on food aid. The Saudi-led coalition has frequently come under scathing international criticism and condemnation for its excessive military actions in Yemen. The coalition has indiscriminately and deliberately bombed civilian areas and blocked aid routes to prevent urgent humanitarian aid from reaching desperate Yemeni civilians. Many human rights groups and activists, as well as the UN, have termed the Saudi military conduct in Yemen as widespread crimes against humanity and massive war crimes.