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Yemen's Hodeida calm after ceasefire takes effect

AFP , Tuesday 18 Dec 2018
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Yemen's flashpoint city of Hodeida was calm on Tuesday following heavy clashes that erupted after a UN-brokered ceasefire started at midnight, pro-government sources and residents said.

The truce agreed at the UN-sponsored peace talks in Sweden came into effect at midnight Monday, but sources said heavy clashes and air raids continued after the deadline.

"There has been complete calm since 03:00 am Yemen time (1200 GMT) in the city of Hodeida," a military source loyal to the government told AFP on Tuesday.

Residents confirmed by phone that there has been no fighting between the government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition and Iran-aligned Huthi rebels since 03:00 am.

But it was not possible to determine if the halt in fighting was in response to the ceasefire or just a temporary stoppage.

Residents said that daily fighting would usually be fierce in the evening and at night, before coming to a standstill at dawn.

The two warring sides have however welcomed the truce in the strategic Red Sea province.

Both the internationally-recognised government and the Huthi rebels said they would comply with the ceasefire.

The United Nations said on Monday that the deal was to be implemented at midnight, even though the agreement reached in Sweden last week included an "immediate ceasefire" in Hodeida and its surroundings.

A UN official, who requested anonymity, told AFP that the delay was necessary for "operational reasons".

UN envoy Martin Griffiths said on Sunday that the UN was working with both sides to ensure the ceasefire accord was "implemented timely and properly".

The truce is supposed to be followed by the withdrawal of fighters from Hodeida, whose port is the entry point for the vast majority of imports to Yemen.

A prisoner swap involving some 15,000 detainees is planned and a "mutual understanding" was reached to facilitate aid deliveries to Yemen's third city Taiz -- under the control of loyalists but besieged by rebels.

The two sides also agreed to meet again in late January for more talks to define the framework for negotiations on a comprehensive peace settlement.

Ahead of the ceasefire coming into force, residents in Hodeida city hoped Monday that it would lead to lasting peace.

"We are hopeful that things will go back to the way they were and that there would be no aggression, no airstrikes and lasting security," Amani Mohammed told AFP.

Another Hodeida resident, Mohammed al-Saikel, said he was optimistic the ceasefire would pave the way for a broader truce.

"We are hopeful about this ceasefire in Hodeida and one for Yemen in general," he said.

"We will reach out in peace to whoever does the same."

Impoverished Yemen has been mired in fighting between the Huthi rebels and troops loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi since 2014.

The war escalated in 2015 when a Saudi-led military coalition stepped in on the government's side.

Since then some 10,000 people have been killed, according to the World Health Organization, but some rights groups believe the toll is far higher.

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