Hodeidah, Yemen, receives first general cargo ship in years amid ceasefire

By Khaled Abdullah and Adel al-Khadher

HODEIDAH, Yemen (Reuters) – A container ship carrying general trade goods docked at Yemen’s main port of Hodeidah on Saturday for the first time since at least 2016, as parties to Yemen’s eight-year war hold talks to restore an lapsed United Nations-brokered ceasefire to trade .

The conflict, which has pitted a Saudi-led military coalition against the Iran-allied Houthi group, has divided Yemen and created a humanitarian crisis that has left 80% of its 30 million population in need of assistance.

Goods arriving in Hodeidah must be checked by a UN body set up to prevent arms shipments from entering Yemen. For the past seven years, Djibouti-based UNVIM has only approved ships carrying certain goods, such as food, fuel and cooking oil.

An official with the internationally recognized Yemeni government told Reuters the granting of access to merchant ships was a confidence-building move to support talks between the Saudis and the Houthi to restore the ceasefire that expired in October.

Port officials said the SHEBELLE, which ship tracking data says is an Ethiopian-flagged general cargo carrier, has been cleared by the United Nations inspection body, the Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM).

“The mechanism previously only granted clearance for certain shipments, but now UNVIM grants clearances for all types of shipments to the port of Hodeidah,” said Muhammad Abu-Bakr bin Ishaq, head of the Houthi-led Red Sea Ports Corporation.

He did not say what cargo the ship was carrying.

He told Reuters that an increased flow of goods into the western port would reduce the cost of transporting products, as most would enter via the government-held port of Aden in the south.

UNVIM did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. The spokesman for the Saudi-led military coalition that patrols the waters off Yemen did not respond.

Reuters saw three container ships docked on Saturday.

The military alliance intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Houthis expelled the Saudi-backed government from the capital, Sanaa.

Djibouti-based UNVIM, which began operations in May 2016, was formed when the coalition accused the Houthis, de facto authorities in northern Yemen, of smuggling Iranian weapons. The Houthis and Tehran deny the allegations.

Direct talks between Saudi Arabia and the movement, which are backed by Oman, are running in tandem with UN-led efforts to restore the ceasefire that has largely been kept, establish a formal ceasefire, and begin full-scale political negotiations.

The war has killed tens of thousands of people, devastated Yemen’s economy and left millions starving. The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign aggression.

(Reporting by Khaled Abdullah and Adel Al-Khadher in Hodeidah and Mohammed Alghobari in Aden; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)


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