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Yemen's warring parties agree to end hostilities in Hodeidah

Guterres said all fighting forces will be withdrawn from Yemen's port city of Hodeidah and open humanitarian corridors to besieged Taiz
Yemen's foreign minister Khaled al-Yamani (2ndL) and rebel negotiator Mohammed Abdelsalam (R) shake hands in Sweden (AFP)

Yemen's warring parties on Thursday agreed to a ceasefire to end hostilities in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced in Sweden. 

Guterres said that the agreement included the deployment of neutral forces and the establishment of humanitarian corridors. He also that warring parties had agreed to open humanitarian corridors to besieged Taiz. 

"We have reached an agreement on Hodeidah port and city. We will see a neutral redeployment of forces in the port and city and the establishment of a governorate-wide ceasefire," Guterres told a press conference in Rimbo, outside Stockholm.

He said armed forces of both parties would withdraw from Hodeidah. Coalition troops have massed on the outskirts of the city, the main entry point for most of Yemen's commercial imports and vital aid supplies.

"I am glad that we made real progress here in Sweden," he said, describing the deal as a "big step" for the Yemeni people.

Guterres added that control will be handed over to local forces under the supervision of the UN. A political framework will be discussed in the next round of meetings scheduled for January.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said that any UN-backed agreement between Yemen's warring parties required the withdrawal of Houthi forces from Hodeidah. 

The United Arab Emirates, which is involved in the Saudi military campaign on Yemen, welcomed an agreement between Yemen's warring parties to a ceasefire in the Red Sea port city on Thursday.

"Encouraging news today from Sweden. Important political progress made including the status of Hodeida. The Coalition & Yemeni forces' military pressure enabled this significant breakthrough," UAE's foreign minister, Anwar Gargash, said in a tweet.

This latest breakthrough comes after the UN proposed on Tuesday for the warring sides to withdraw from Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis facing famine, and place it under the control of an interim entity. 

Three sources familiar with the talks told Reuters that the proposal presented by Griffiths envisions a "joint committee or independent entity" be set up to manage the city and port after both sides withdraw.

UN monitors could be deployed in Hodeidah, they said, adding that discussions were ongoing.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Khalid al-Yamani, who is also the head of the government’s delegation at the peace talks, said on Monday that Hodeidah should be placed under interior ministry control as a matter of sovereignty.

The ambassadors of the five permanent member states of the UN Security Council are present at the talks and are reported to have pressed the parties to agree to the UN's Hodeidah proposal.

The war in Yemen has killed tens of thousands of people, a research group recently said, while also causing a cholera outbreak and bringing the country to the verge of famine.

In March 2015, Saudi Arabia launched a military campaign in Yemen to root out Houthi rebels, who had taken over the capital, Sanaa, and deposed president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

The Saudi-led coalition has been accused of committing war crimes in Yemen, such as the deliberate bombing of hospitals, buses and other civilian infrastructure.

The Houthis have also been accused of taking hostages and arbitrarily detaining and torturing opponents, all potential war crimes.

Over the past three years, the war has killed tens of thousands of people and spawned what the UN has called the world's most dire humanitarian crisis, in what was already one of the world's poorest countries.