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Yemen ceasefire: hope gives way to worry about whether deal will stick

Situation on ground in Hodeidah will test UN-brokered deal, say analystsInitial hope after a breakthrough round of peace talks on Yemen in Sweden has quickly given way to worries over how the agreed measures will be implemented.The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said on Thursday that the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition had agreed to an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of troops from the port city of Hodeidah, as well as the setting up of humanitarian corridors and the future deployment of UN-supervised neutral forces. Continue reading...

Initial hope after a breakthrough round of peace talks on Yemen in Sweden has quickly given way to worries over how the agreed measures will be implemented.

The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said on Thursday that the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition had agreed to an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of troops from the port city of Hodeidah, as well as the setting up of humanitarian corridors and the future deployment of UN-supervised neutral forces.

Whether the wider goals set out in the UN communiques can be achieved will be tested on the ground in the next few days in Hodeidah, where the coalition launched an offensive last month to retake the city from the Houthis.

“Hodeidah is the litmus test for the Sweden talks,” said the analyst Hisham al-Omeisy. “The parties have agreed to withdraw to the city limits and for a reorganisation of military units and local security forces. But this is Yemen and nothing is that simple.

“For example, the Houthis have recruited a lot of locals in the city. Are they supposed to vacate their homes now? The wording of the agreements has been purposefully vague to get the parties to agree, but it’s going to be very hard to gauge what success will be like as a result.”

The week of talks in Rimbo, near Stockholm, was hastily convened in order to avoid large-scale violence in Hodeidah.

The Red Sea city is home to 600,000 people – half of whom are children, according to Unicef – and is a vital aid lifeline for the rest of the country, which is facing the prospect of famine.

Despite sporadic gunfire and shelling on the city’s northern and eastern outskirts overnight on Thursday, Hodeidah was largely calm by Friday morning, residents said.

“It’s been quieter the last few days and now the weekend has started absolutely nothing,” Ibrahim Seif said. “We have to wait and see if it will stay this way. God knows we need it.”

“We are happy about the ceasefire but are worried that the fighters will not abide by it,” Iman Azzi, a teacher, told Reuters. “The war has destroyed us. We want to live.”

While no major political settlements were expected from the first talks since 2016, the Sweden agreement is considered a breakthrough for the UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, after a previous round scheduled to take place in Geneva this year collapsed before they began.

Face-to-face talks concluded with handshakes between the two teams of negotiators in Rimbo. A significant shortcoming, however, was a lack of consensus on reunifying Yemen’s central bank, meaning it is still unclear whether the finances of Hodeidah’s port will be administered by the UN.

The Houthis are unlikely to give up full control of the port – the movement’s most important income source – without assurances their revenue streams will be protected.

The Yemeni economic committee is scheduled to meet in Amman in Jordan next week for consultations on rescuing the ailing Yemeni rial and ensuring public workers’ salaries are paid.

A further round of UN-sponsored talks between the Houthis and Yemeni government representatives is tabled for early in the new year.

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