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First fuel ship allowed in Yemen’s Hodeida as part of truce

April 3, 2022 GMT

CAIRO (AP) — A tanker carrying badly needed fuel arrived in Yemen’s blockaded port of Hodeida on Sunday, as a cease-fire meant to stop the fighting in the war-torn country for two months entered its first full day.

The truce agreement, which took effect Saturday evening, allows for shipments of fuel to arrive in Hodeida and for passenger flights to resume from the airport in the capital of Sanaa. Both Hodeida and Sanaa are held by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

The agreement comes after a significant escalation in hostilities in recent weeks that saw the Houthis claim several attacks across the country’s borders, targeting the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Essam al-Motwakel, spokesman for the Houthi-run oil corporation, said the Saudi-led coalition allowed the vessel — carrying mazut, a low-quality fuel oil — into the port at Hodeida. The port handles about 70% of Yemen’s commercial and humanitarian imports.

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He called on U.N. envoy Hans Grundberg, to work with the coalition and accelerate the arrival of other vessels to ease a longtime fuel crisis in Houthi-held areas.

During the two-month truce, the Saudi-led coalition will allow 18 vessels carrying fuel into the port of Hodeida, and two commercial flights a week from the Yemeni capital to Jordan and Egypt, according to a copy of the truce obtained by The Associated Press.

The U.N. envoy has called for both sides to agree on opening roads around Taiz and other provinces, the cease-fire document said. Taiz, which remains partially held by the forces fighting on behalf of the internationally recognized government, has been blockaded by the Houthis for years.

“The success of this initiative will depend on the warring parties’ continued commitment to implementing the truce agreement with its accompanying humanitarian measures,” Grundberg said Saturday in announcing the truce had taken effect.

As the truce entered its first full day on Sunday, the AP spoke to a half dozen Yemenis who hoped the truce would not collapse as other cease-fires have.

“It’s good, but we learned from past experience that it could collapse anytime,” said Amer al-Hubani, a civil servant in the city of Taiz. “We hope things move smoothly this time.”

Arafat al-Sabari, a 32-year-old laborer who lives with his six children in the Sweida displaced persons camp near the central city of Marib, was also skeptical.

“We hope it stands, but unfortunately ground fighting continued until late at night after the truce,” he said. The Houthis have tried to seize Marib repeatedly over the past year.

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The U.N.-announced cease-fire, supported by both sides, is the first time since 2018 that the two sides have publicly agreed on such an initiative. At a meeting in the Swedish capital of Stockholm, leaders set a framework that called for a halt in fighting in Hodeida and an exchange of more than 15,000 prisoners. The deal, seen as an important first step toward ending the conflict, was never fully implemented.

The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of Sanaa by the Houthis. A Saudi-led coalition allied with the government has been fighting the Houthis since March 2015.

The war in Yemen has spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical shortages. It has killed over 150,000 people, including fighters and civilians, according to a database project that tracks violence.

Separately, a fire broke out Sunday in a camp for displaced persons near Marib, killing at least seven people including five children, said Saleh Nasser, head of a local coordination office for displaced people.

He said the fire in the Shabwani camp was caused by an electric short circuit. It also injured another person, and destroyed the shelters of two families, he added.