Houthis violate ceasefire terms in al-Hodeidah

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden


Displaced Yemenis from Durahemi receive food aid in the Red Sea port city of al-Hodeidah on August 9th. [AFP]

The Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) have repeatedly violated a ceasefire agreement in the port city of al-Hodeidah as part of a pattern of behaviour that has placed the truce under serious threat, experts told Al-Mashareq.

Through their actions in the war-torn city, which serves as a vital entry point and conduit for humanitarian aid, the Houthis are hurting local residents by putting their security, livelihoods and access to aid at risk, they said.

Instead of supporting the peace process, the Houthis are trying to strengthen their military position and further the agenda of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) at the expense of Yemen's stability, they added.

UN-brokered talks between the warring parties in Stockholm last December yielded a series of breakthroughs, including a ceasefire in al-Hodeidah.

In a November 5th statement, Abhijit Guha, who heads the UN mission to support the al-Hodeidah agreement (UNMHA) and chairs the Redeployment Co-ordination Committee called on all parties to adhere to the truce agreement.

Recent breaches have had an adverse effect on residents of al-Hodeidah province and must be prevented at all costs, he said, urging all parties to exercise restraint and avoid any escalation of the situation.

He called on all parties to support ongoing efforts to maintain the ceasefire in al-Hodeidah, support the monitoring tasks of UNMHA and provide the necessary freedom of movement to its personnel.

Observation posts at risk

In late October, the Yemeni government and the Houthis set up five joint ceasefire observation posts along the frontlines as part of de-escalation moves in al-Hodeidah.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths welcomed the establishment of the observation posts and the deployment of liaison officers, saying the move would "enhance de-escalation in flashpoint areas and save lives".

At the time, Guha said the posts were "designed to facilitate direct inter-party de-escalation in flashpoint areas seen as susceptible to conflict".

But on November 3rd, Yemeni military commanders threatened to shut down the observation points, in protest against the Houthis' violations.

According to local media, the Houthis have been digging tunnels around the observation posts, and setting up checkpoints on the edges of the city.

They have dug 19 tunnels since the observation posts were established, in flagrant violation of the Stockholm agreement, according to Waddah al-Dabish, military spokesman for the Yemeni Joint Forces on the West Coast.

In an additional violation of the ceasefire agreement, Yemeni Coast Guard forces in the Red Sea in late October seized a boat bound for the Houthis that was loaded with materials used in the manufacture of explosives.

And in mid-September, the Saudi-led coalition said it intercepted and destroyed a "remote-controlled, booby-trapped boat" that the Houthis aimed to use for a "terrorist act in the south of the Red Sea".

Fueling a humanitarian crisis

Meanwhile, the Houthis "continue to terrorise the residents of al-Hodeidah", deputy al-Hodeidah governor Walid al-Qadimi told Al-Mashareq.

The city is now suffering a humanitarian crisis as a result of the Iran-backed militia's intimidation of residents and "destruction of all aspects of normal life, including facilities, services, farms, bridges and roads", he said.

The Houthis are committing these violations "to undermine the chances of peace and take advantage of the Stockholm agreement to turn al-Hodeidah into military barracks", he said.

All the while, they are "continuing to bombard the liberated areas in al-Hodeidah province with artillery", he added.

With these actions, the Houthis make it evident "they do not seek peace, but rather to pursue the interests of the IRGC, which undermines the security and stability of Yemen and the region", al-Qadimi said.

Posing a threat to peace

"The Houthis have committed some 12,000 [ceasefire] violations and breaches since the signing of the Stockholm agreement in December 2018 to date,'' political researcher Wadih Atta told Al-Mashareq.

More than 350 civilians were killed as a result, and many more were wounded, he said, proving that the Houthis "do not seek peace and intend to continue to implement the Iranian agenda and compound the suffering of residents".

The violations can be seen as an attempt on the part of the Houthis to apply military pressure "to improve the terms of the negotiations and prove their strength as a military side, not as a party that wishes to make peace", he said.

"The Houthis know the consequences of losing al-Hodeidah, which is of financial and military importance to them, so they are not going to abandon it easily," he added.

The port of al-Hodeidah has become a conduit between Iran and the Houthis for the entry of weapons, explosives and various types of espionage equipment, political analyst Faisal Ahmed told Al-Mashareq.

Through their actions, the Houthis have stifled the livelihoods of the local population and threatened the peace in the city and the port, which is a key entry point for aid, he said.

The militia's actions in al-Hodeidah "do not serve Yemen and its stability, but rather serve the Iranian agenda without regard for the suffering of Yemenis, which mounts every day", Ahmed said.

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