Clashes erupt in Hodeida despite truce

A soldier looks as fire engulfs an oil storage tank at the Aden oil refinery one day after an explosion in the refinery in Aden, Yemen on Saturday. — Reuters

HODEIDA, Yemen — Clashes erupted between Houthi rebels and government forces in Yemen’s flashpoint port city of Hodeida on Saturday, dealing a new blow to a fragile truce, an AFP correspondent reported.

Artillery and machine-gun exchanges rocked the southern part of Hodeida in early morning before tapering off later in day, the correspondent said.

The rebel-held port city, which is a lifeline for the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid, was for months the main front line in the Yemeni conflict after government forces supported by Saudi Arabia and its allies launched an offensive to capture it in June.

But last month the warring parties agreed a ceasefire for Hodeida during UN-sponsored talks in Sweden. The United Nations has said the truce has largely held since it came into force on Dec. 18 but there have been delays in the agreed pullback of rebel and government forces.

UN aid coordinator Lise Grande visited Hodeida on Friday and met local officials, the head of Yemen’s National Authority for the Administration and Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Jaber Al-Razahi, said.

“The reason for the visit of UN humanitarian coordinator Lise Grande to Hodeida is to see the humanitarian situation... and ensure the arrival of aid through the port,” Razahi said.

Also on Friday, Britain presented a United Nations Security Council draft resolution that would expand an international observer mission monitoring a ceasefire in Yemen and allow humanitarian aid to reach millions on the brink of famine.

The council is expected to vote on the measure next week, diplomats said. The mission would provide for the deployment of up to 75 monitors in the rebel-held city of Hodeida and its port along with the ports of Saleef and Ras Issa for an initial period of six months, according to the draft obtained by AFP.

The draft calls on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to “expeditiously” deploy the full mission, led by retired Dutch Gen. Patrick Cammaert.

Meanwhile, the fire that ripped through a storage tank at the main oil refinery in Yemen’s Aden on Friday evening was probably started deliberately, an official said.

The fire, which also spread to a nearby pipeline, was likely “the result of an explosion (and) probably a deliberate act of sabotage”, said the official, who did not wish to be named. He did not specify who might have been responsible.

“The fire brigade are working to contain the blaze and stop it spreading to the neighboring storage tanks, which are full of oil and diesel” donated by Saudi Arabia, he added. — AFP