Houthi rebels begin withdrawal from key ports in Yemen

The Houthis will redeploy from the ports of Hodeidah Saleef and Ras Isa over four days starting on Saturday the UN said

Yemen's Houthi movement has begun withdrawing forces from the country's port of Saleef in Hodeidah province, finally invoking the terms of a United Nations-sponsored peace deal five months after the agreement was made.

Hodeida port is the main entry point for the bulk of Yemen's imports and humanitarian aid, serving as a lifeline to millions of civilians pushed to the brink of starvation by more than four years of war.

Yemen's government had earlier accused rebels of a "policy of deception" after they announced the withdrawal in a long-delayed move agreed under a ceasefire deal previous year.

"All three ports were monitored simultaneously by United Nations teams as the military forces left the ports and the Coast Guard took over responsibility for security", it added.

ON SATURDAY rebel forces began to withdraw from the main port of Yemen, hopefully opening the way to an accelerated humanitarian effort to help the population which has been suffering terribly for nearly five years. The deal also requires that Saudi-backed government forces leave the area.

Saudi Arabia has been leading a Sunni Arab military coalition against the Iran-allied Yemeni Shiite Houthi rebels since March 2015 to support the internationally-recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi after the rebels forced him into exile in Riyadh and seized much of Yemen's north, including the capital Sanaa.

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 commented that the first day of Houthi redeployment was "in accordance with established plans".

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"It's an attempt to disinform the global community", he told reporters.

Lollesgaard said the full implementation of the Hodeida deal remains instrumental to ensuring life-saving humanitarian access inside Yemen.

The development marks the first concrete step since a fragile U.N. cease-fire agreement was brokered between the war-ravaged nation's rival parties last December.

Yemen's accusation came after the Houthi rebels, who have been in control of the ports since 2014, said they had carried out their obligations. But they've yet to announce a withdrawal.

Hodeidah became the focus of the war previous year when the coalition twice tried to seize its port to cut off the main supply line for the Houthis, whom they accuse of smuggling Iranian weapons, including missiles that have targeted Saudi cities.

This development has come as an important part of a ceasefire agreement that has reached a year ago in December in Sweden, Al-Jazeera reported. Coalition forces, now massed four km from Hodeidah port on the edges of the city, would retreat one km from "Kilo 8" and Saleh districts.

Yemen's conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, many of them civilians, relief agencies say.

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