Artillery shells and a steady stream of heavy machine-gun fire tore through the village of Al-Shijan on Monday, as Saudi-led forces renewed hostilities in the area following a Houthi withdrawal from Hodeida.
SA’DAH, YEMEN — The familiar sound of heavy artillery once again returned to Yemen’s Hodeida province following a period of relative calm in the strategic coastal region. At least 66 artillery shells and a steady stream of heavy machine-gun fire tore through the village of Al-Shijan on Monday, as Saudi-led forces renewed hostilities in the area following a Houthi withdrawal from Hodeida — a move the UN had hoped would bring some semblance of peace to the region.
The Saudi attack comes just days after the Houthis began a unilateral withdrawal from the areas of Saleef, Ras Isa and Hodeida ports in Hodeida province as part of a UN-brokered mutual withdrawal from the province.
The withdrawal comes after months of frustration by the UN team overseeing of the implementation of a truce agreement reached by the Houthis and Saudi-led Coalition in Stockholm, Sweden last year, which would see both sides withdraw from Hodeida and UN personnel take control. But since the agreement was signed, Saudi forces have instead increased their military presence in the province and dismissed unilateral withdrawals by the Houthis as propaganda, frustrating international parties seeking to end the war.
The British ambassador to Yemen recently lashed out at Coalition-allied forces over their cynicism about the Houthi withdrawal. “The Yemeni [Saudi-Coaltion allied] cynics who criticize everything the other side does even if it is positive and who say the UN are naive seem to be saying the only solution is perpetual war in Yemen,” Michael Aron said on Twitter.
Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam said on Tuesday:
The escalation of aggression by the [Saudi-led Coalition] and its mercenaries in Hodeida after the most important part of the Sweden agreement was implemented reveals who wants the war to continue.”
Houthi fighters began pulling out of Hodeida late Saturday morning and reportedly completed the first stage of their unilateral withdrawal by Monday. UN teams oversaw the Houthi redeployment of forces from the ports of Saleef and Ras Isa, used for grain storage and oil respectively, and the UN confirmed that the withdrawal of Houthi forces from key ports in Hodeida was proceeding according to plan for a third day.
“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,” Lt. Gen. Michael Lollesgaard, head of the UN’s Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC), said in a statement.
According to the UN, the redeployment will allow the organization to take a leading role in supporting the Red Sea Ports Corporation in managing the ports and enhancing UN checks on cargo.
The Houthis have justified their redeployment as being a necessary step to alleviate the suffering of civilians and to breathe life into a peace deal that had been stalled for months after the Saudi-led Coalition repeatedly failed to uphold its side of the mutual withdrawal.
In a statement to the press on Monday, the Houthis urged the United Nations to press the Coalition to implement its side of the Stockholm agreement but warned that they were prepared to return to the ports in the event that the Coalition did not withdraw.
A high-ranking Houthi official told MintPress that implementation of the Armistice Agreement [by the Coalition] is not expected, saying “the Coalition has another agenda.”
A second Houthi withdrawal
The Houthi withdrawal is the second attempt to implement parts of the UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement since it was reached last December. Houthi forces first handed control of Hodeida to Yemen’s Coast Guard in early January, a major step towards implementing a ceasefire agreement.
The first withdrawal failed after the Saudi Coalition demanded the Houthis withdraw eight kilometers outside of the city while the Saudi troops would remain within half a kilometer of the city limits. The Houthis refused the condition, expressing concern that the Coalition was using the agreement as a pretext to quickly occupy Hodeida after Houthi forces left.
Hodeida is the main entry point for the bulk of Yemen’s imports and humanitarian aid, providing a lifeline to millions of civilians who have been pushed to the brink of famine by a blockade on Yemen`s main ports by the Saudi-led Coalition.
Death from the air for farmers, civilians
While Saudi-led ground forces renewed hostilities in Hodeida province, Saudi jets struck civilian targets in the northern province of Sada`a and southwestern province of Dhale on Monday. At least 13 civilians, including women and children, were killed and more than 10 others sustained injuries after Saudi-led warplanes carried out airstrikes on a truck loaded with fruit in Sada`a and a separate spate of airstrike hit heavily populated areas in Dhale.
In Sa’dah, a group of Yemeni farmers from Hajjah province were killed when Saudi airstrikes targeted their truck carrying mangoes on a highway in the Majz district as they were driving to the Qataber market on the Yemen-Saudi border.
The body of one member of the Salem Jaber family was scattered around the area of the attack amid his cargo of spilled mango fruit. Medics were able to rescue a single victim of the airstrike, who was taken to the al-Joumhouria Hospital in Sa`dah. “We found the charred remains of just one of the victims, and another was seriously wounded,” a medic on the scene told MintPress, as his colleagues were gathering what remained of the scattered body parts.
The attack came just two days after a Saudi airstrike killed a woman and six children and injured 11 children and five women, in the southern province of al-Dhale. According to witnesses, the airstrikes targeted two homes.
Feature photo | Houthi forces prepare for withdrawal from the Saleef port in Hodeida province, Yemen on May 11, 2019. Zeyad Abdul Jabbar | Reuters
Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.