'Uneasy calm' in al-Hodeidah as combatants await UN truce team


A picture taken on December 17th shows people driving in a market in the Yemeni city of al-Hodeidah. [AFP]

A picture taken on December 17th shows people driving in a market in the Yemeni city of al-Hodeidah. [AFP]

An uneasy calm returned to the battleground Yemeni city of al-Hodeidah on Thursday (December 20th) after further overnight skirmishes as the warring parties await the promised deployment of UN staff to oversee a hard-won but fragile truce, AFP reported.

The ceasefire in the Red Sea port city is the centrepiece of a peace push that is seen as the best chance yet of ending four years of devastating conflict.

Military officials and residents have reported intermittent fighting between government forces and Iran-backed Houthi (Ansarallah) fighters since the UN-brokered ceasefire came into effect on Tuesday.

A pro-government official told AFP that four loyalists were wounded in a firefight on Wednesday night.

"The exchange of fire lasted for about half an hour, and there is an uneasy calm this morning," he said.

Residents reached by telephone confirmed to AFP that there was no fighting on Thursday morning.

The official added there has been intermittent fighting on a number of battlefronts in al-Hodeidah province, including the districts of Hays and al-Tuhayta.

Pro-government forces and Houthis accused each other on Thursday of breaching the ceasefire agreed at talks in Sweden earlier this month.

UN observers due in Yemen this week

UN observers are due in Yemen to head up monitoring teams made up of government and Houthi representatives tasked with overseeing the implementation of the UN-brokered ceasefire, under the auspices of a Redeployment Co-ordination Committee.

The committee's UN chair, Patrick Cammaert, convened its first meeting by videoconference from New York on Wednesday "to discuss the general outlines of its work, including agreement of a code of conduct", UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

UN chief Antonio Guterres was "breathing down the neck" of officials to make sure the UN observers are deployed as soon as possible, Dujarric said.

He added that Cammaert will head on Thursday to Jordan from where he will travel to Sanaa and al-Hodeidah.

A UN official told AFP that he was expected in Amman on Friday.

"His departure to Yemen depends on logistics arrangements and flight availability," the official, who requested anonymity, said.

Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Kokbani, a Yemeni government representative on the committee, told AFP that the videoconference with Cammaert covered the bases of the committee's mission.

"Cammaert asked members of the team to work diligently in calming the situation and to reject any violations," he said.

The committee's observers are due to oversee the withdrawal of the warring parties from al-Hodeidah, including a Houthi pullout from the city's docks that are the entry point for 80% of Yemeni imports and nearly all UN-supervised humanitarian aid.

Cammaert is due to report back to the Security Council on the situation on the ground on a weekly basis.

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