Houthi fighters and Saudi-backed pro-government forces battled in Yemen‘s port city of Hodeidah on Wednesday, breaching a ceasefire as the UN Security Council held a meeting to discuss the devastating war.
The latest clashes potentially complicate a troop withdrawal agreement intended to pave the way for wider peace talks, in which ports were handed over to Yemeni coastguard forces.
Hodeidah port, which has been under Houthi control, is a lifeline for millions of Yemenis threatened by starvation because of the war as it is the main entry point for food imports and aid.
The Houthi withdrawal from Hodeidah and two other Red Sea ports began on Saturday and was the most significant advance yet in efforts to end the four-year-old war.
However, both sides reported renewed clashes on Wednesday, a day after the Iran-aligned Houthi movement claimed a drone attack that Saudi Arabia said had hit two of its oil pumping stations.
Houthi-run media said pro-government forces had hit various parts of Hodeidah city, including the airport, with heavy and medium weapons.
It did not say if they were Yemeni troops or members of an international military coalition led by Saudi Arabia that backs President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s Aden-based government.
The coalition-backed forces said in a report that Houthi fighters tried to infiltrate Hodeidah and the al-Duraihmi area to its south but pro-government troops foiled them.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, leading members of the coalition, have yet to comment on the Houthi withdrawal.
The coalition has forces massed on Hodeidah’s outskirts and under the withdrawal plan’s first phase, they are supposed to eventually also draw back.
Lieutenant-General Michael Lollesgaard, the head of the UN committee overseeing the withdrawal, said in Hodeidah on Tuesday the UN now had full access to the ports, which would allow its inspectors to check ships docking for any Houthi arms imports.
“This moment is significant. But this is only the beginning. These redeployments must be followed by concrete actions of the parties to deliver on their obligations under the Stockholm agreement,” Martin Griffith, UN special envoy for Yemen, said at the Security Council meeting on Yemen.
“The parties must ensure that the momentum is maintained by implementing subsequent steps of the mutual redeployments in Hodeidah and ensuring that the UN is able to increase its role in the ports.”
The ceasefire in Hodeidah, agreed during peace talks in Stockholm in December, has largely held despite intermittent shelling and skirmishes, but violence continues elsewhere in the country.
The Saudi-led coalition, which receives weapons and other support from the West, intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Houthi rebels overthrew Hadi from the capital, Sanaa.
Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia while his internationally recognised government based itself in the southern port city of Aden.
The war is seen as part of a wider regional conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, mostly civilians, and aid agencies say the humanitarian crisis is the worst in the world.
Al Jazeera and news agencies