Yemen govt minister dismisses Houthi pullout from Hodeidah as a "show"

Members of the World Food Programme visit the Red Sea mills warehouse in the Yemeni port city of Hodeida on 5 May 2019

Yemen's Houthi forces have started to redeploy from Saleef and Ras Isa ports in Hodeidah province under a United Nations-sponsored peace deal that had been stalled for months, a Reuters witness said. The U.N. says the conflict in Yemen has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The UN confirmed that a withdrawal by Yemen's Houthi rebels from three Red Sea ports had begun on Saturday, while two pro-government officials accused the rebels of faking the pullout.

Houthi rebels in Yemen began to withdraw fighters from the country's most strategic port city, a move that, if completed, would mark a significant step toward salvaging a peace deal that hasn't been implemented since it was brokered by the U.N.in December.

The cease-fire in Hodeida, which ended month of fighting, called for the mutual withdrawal of both government and rebel forces from the city and two other key locations.

Aid workers have been unable to reach the stores for five months, and the United Nations previously warned that the grain was at risk of rotting.

The gesture of goodwill by the Houthi rebels did not sit well with Yemen's Saudi-backed government.

Hodeida is the main worldwide entry point for 70 percent of imports and humanitarian aid to Yemen, where the four-year civil war has killed an estimated 60,000 people and pushed much of the country to the brink of starvation.

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Sources close to the Iran-aligned Houthis told media that the ports were handed over to coast guard personnel who were in charge before the rebels took over nearly five years ago.

Danish Lt Gen Michael Lollesgaard briefed government representatives in Aden after the Houthi rebels announced a unilateral withdrawal from the Red Sea ports earlier in the day.

The Houthi withdrawal represents a " potential breakthrough", Adam Baron, a Yemen expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank told AFP. The UN has said that a record 22.2 million Yemenis are in dire need of food, including 8.4 million threatened by severe hunger. Some 60,000 people have been killed in the war that has pushed many Yemeni's to the brink of starvation.

Hodeidah has become the focus of the war since previous year when the coalition twice tried to seize its port to cut off the Houthis' main supply line.

Britain's Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, tweeted there were "encouraging signs" in Hudaydah, with reports that Houthis were "beginning to withdraw (under United Nations supervision) from the Yemeni ports of Hodeidah, Saleff and Ras Issa". The Houthis handed over the ports to local coast guard forces in Hodeidah, and two smaller ports in the vicinity. Coalition forces, now massed 4km from Hodeidah port on the edges of the city, are to retreat 1km from two flashpoint districts.

The alliance led by Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen in 2015 after the Houthis ousted the internationally recognised government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

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