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Rival sides trade blame as overnight shelling rattles Hodeidah truce

United Nations mediators set to hold talks with Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels to discuss withdrawal of forces from Red Sea port
A street in Hodeidah on Monday, before the ceasefire came into effect. Residents said the city had mostly been calm during the day time (AFP)

The Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels in Hodeidah each accused the other of violating a United Nations-mediated ceasefire overnight, where shelling was reported for about an hour in eastern and southern areas of the Yemeni city.

Mohammed Abdul Rahim, a resident of Hodeidah's al-Rabasah area, said he heard some shelling and missiles on Tuesday evening, but the fighting was far less than usual.

“We heard shelling near to the Thabet Brothers factories and in al-Shaab area and other areas but there was no fighting like usual,” Abdul Rahim told Middle East Eye.

“There were no clashes and the air strikes did not target any place in the city," he said.

"[But] there is no 100 percent ceasefire; violations are there.”

Fighting is usually at its fiercest in the evening and at night, with the city generally quiet during the daytime even before the ceasefire came into effect on Tuesday.

Houthi-run al-Masirah TV accused coalition forces of shelling several sites in Hodeidah, including areas east of the airport.

The United Arab Emirates news agency WAM quoted a Yemeni source as saying the Houthis fired mortar bombs and rockets at the 22 May Hospital in the eastern suburbs.

Residents told news agencies that Hodeidah was calm again on Wednesday morning.

UN mediators are due to hold talks via teleconference with both sides later in the day to discuss a withdrawal of military forces from the city and nearby ports as part of a truce deal agreed in Sweden last week.

UK to push for Security Council resolution

A coalition official, who declined to be named, called on the UN to deploy international monitors as soon as possible to ensure that the ceasefire continued.

"We will continue to give them [the Houthis] the benefit of the doubt and show restraint, but early indicators are not promising," the coalition source, who declined to be named, told reporters.

"If the UN... takes too long to get into [the] theatre, they will lose the opportunity altogether and the Stockholm agreement will [be] a dead duck."

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Wednesday that the UK planned to table a motion at the United Nations Security Council to endorse and protect the ceasefire.

The UK is the penholder for Yemen on the Security Council, which means it has the responsibility and the power to draft resolutions and lead proposed peace initiatives.

"We will ask the Security Council to vote on the draft in the next 48 hours," Hunt said, adding that he had "urged all parties to stick to the terms agreed last week".

The resolution would endorse the terms of the agreement, authorise the UN "to monitor their implementation" and set out "urgent steps to alleviate the humanitarian crisis".

The coalition has been battling the Houthis in Yemen in support of the government of Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi since 2015, after the rebel group gained control of Sanaa, the capital, and other major cities, in 2014.

Saudi Arabia and its allies say the Houthi movement is backed by Iran. But the coalition is accused of fuelling a humanitarian crisis in which millions are living in near-famine conditions, and of targeting civilians with air strikes.

Three residents in Sanaa told Reuters that the coalition carried out several air strikes on al-Dulaimi Air Base near Sanaa airport on Wednesday.

The ceasefire deal only covers Hodeidah, the main entry point into Yemen for humanitarian supplies.

But the truce is meant to pave the way for a wider ceasefire and a framework for political negotiations between the rival sides.

The two sides had also agreed a prisoner swap. A Red Cross official said in Geneva on Wednesday they had exchanged lists of a total of 16,000 people believed to be detained.