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UN says Yemeni warring sides agree Hodeidah ceasefire moves

UN says Houthis and government agreed new measures to enforce a ceasefire and facilitate a troop pullback from port
Representatives of the Houthis and the Yemeni government met on a UN ship in the Red Sea for talks (AFP)

Yemen's warring parties have agreed new measures to enforce a ceasefire and facilitate a troop pullback from the flashpoint port of Hodeidah, the United Nations has said.

Representatives of the Houthi movement and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government met on a UN ship in the Red Sea for talks on Sunday and Monday, a UN statement said.

The UN is trying to broker a withdrawal from Hodeidah - the main entry point for food and humanitarian aid - so UN-supervised management can take over.

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The hard-won truce agreement reached late last year in Sweden called on the Yemeni government and the Houthis to pull forces out of the key port of Hodeidah and parts of the city.

The UN's statement on Monday said both sides were keen to reduce hostilities after a rise in ceasefire violations at Hodeidah.

"They agreed on a mechanism and new measures to reinforce the ceasefire and de-escalation, to be put in place as soon as possible," it said, without giving more details.

The two sides met as members of the "Redeployment Coordination Committee," a body set up by the UN and chaired by Danish Lieutenant General Michael Lollesgaard to oversee the ceasefire and troop exit.

The committee finalised conceptual agreement on troop withdrawals, which now required political leaders' buy-in, the statement said. 

The leaders would also have to agree on "local security forces, local authority and revenues," the statement said, without elaborating.

UN ceasefire observation mission extended

UN special envoy Martin Griffiths said on Monday he held "productive" talks with the Saudi deputy defence minister aimed at bolstering a ceasefire agreement for Yemen.

"We discussed how to keep Yemen out of the regional tensions, make progress in the implementation of the Stockholm agreement [and Saudi Arabia's] support to the peace process," Griffiths wrote on Twitter.

Prince Khalid bin Salman said in a tweet that he met with Griffiths to "emphasize our commitment to the wellbeing of the Yemeni people, and the need to end Iran's interference in Yemen. I also stressed our support for a political solution, and the need for the Houthis to implement their signed agreements, including Stockholm."

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Saudi Arabia has long accused Iran of arming the Houthis, a charge denied by Tehran.

In New York, the UN Security Council voted unanimously on Monday to extend its ceasefire observation mission in Hodeidah by six months, until 15 January.

It also called on Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to deploy a full contingent of observers "expeditiously" in the mission, which is mandated to have 75 staff but currently only has 20 on the ground. 

The UN is hoping that a de-escalation in Hodeidah will allow desperately-needed food and medical aid to reach millions in need in Yemen.

Drone attacks

On Monday, Griffith also met in Riyadh with Yemen's President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi - their first encounter since Hadi accused him in May of siding with the Houthis.

"I just concluded a meeting with President Hadi. I am grateful to him and his Government's commitment to the Stockholm agreement and his personal support to finding a political solution to the conflict in #Yemen," Griffith tweeted.

In May, Hadi took issue with Griffiths over the rebel handover of Hodeidah ports and fired off a letter to UN chief Guterres saying he "can no longer accept these offences" by the UN special envoy.

The Yemen conflict has killed tens of thousands of people since a Saudi-led military coalition intervened in support of the beleaguered government in March 2015, according to the World Health Organisation.

The fighting has also displaced millions and left 24.1 million - more than two-thirds of the population - in need of aid.

The Sweden deal has come under further strain as the Houthis escalate drone and missile attacks on Saudi cities.

On Monday night, the coalition said it had intercepted and downed two drones launched by Houthis against the southwestern Saudi city of Khamis Mushait.

There were no casualties in the incidents but only "minor damage" to a residential building and some vehicles from falling shrapnel and debris, the coalition said in a statement.