Yemen's Houthi movement has begun withdrawing forces from the country’s port of Saleef in Hodeidah province, finally invoking the terms of a United Nations-sponsored peace deal five months after the agreement was made.
It is the first major step in implementing the deal, which was reached by the Saudi-backed Yemen government of President Abed-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the Iran-aligned Houthis for a ceasefire and troop withdrawal in Hodeidah last year. The deal is part of international efforts to end the four-year conflict.
The UN's Redeployment Coordination Committee had earlier said the Houthis would make an "initial unilateral redeployment" between Saturday and Tuesday from the ports of Saleef and Ras Isa, as well as the country's main port of Hodeidah.
The Committee said the redeployment would allow the UN to take "a leading role" in supporting the Red Sea Ports Corporation in the management of the Yemeni ports. It also said that this would enhance UN checks on cargoes.
The Houthi group and the Yemeni agreed last December - after a week of UN-sponsored peace talks in Sweden - to cease fighting and withdraw forces.
Under the original terms of the deal, international monitors were to be deployed in Hodeidah and all armed forces were to have pulled back completely within 21 days of the start of the ceasefire.
The Houthi movement said it had decided to ‘redeploy unilaterally’ because the government and its international backers had refused to implement the Stockholm agreement.
Hodeidah has become the focus of the war since last year when the coalition twice tried to seize its port to cut off the Houthis' main supply line.
Both sides are expected to pull back further in a second phase.
A spokesman for the Yemeni delegation to the Redeployment Coordination Committee emphasised that the beginning of the Houthi move was “the first step of the first stage.”
The UN has commented that the first day of Houthi redeployment was "in accordance with established plans."