Yemen’s warring sides meet over flashpoint port city

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen’s warring sides concluded an overnight meeting on Monday that discussed the redeployment of forces from the flashpoint port city of Hodeida, officials said.

This was the first meeting since February between the Shiite rebel group, known as the Houthis, and the forces loyal to the internationally recognized government.

Under a December cease-fire agreement, both sides were to redeploy their forces from Hodeida, something considered an important first step toward ending the civil war.

Hodeida is the main entry point for humanitarian aid to Yemen, where over four years of war have spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The talks took place aboard a United Nations vessel and began late Sunday, said Wadah Dabish, a government spokesman. The Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV also reported the meeting. The discussions were led by Lt. Gen. Michael Lollesgaard, head of the U.N. mission in Hodeida.

Officials from both sides said the meeting did not bridge the gap between the government and the Houthis over who would run the strategic city. They spoke on conditions of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief media.

A lack of trust between both sides hampered the Hodeida agreement on details of the withdrawals. Each side has accused the other of violating the cease-fire in the city and clashes have flared up again in recent weeks, in addition to fighting in other parts of the country.

The Houthis claimed in May to have redeployed their forces from the city’s ports — an assertion rejected by the government as a “farce,” accusing the rebels of simply handing their positions over to allied fighters.

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

Saudi-led airstrikes have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties and killed thousands of Yemeni civilians, who have borne the brunt of the conflict.

The war in Yemen has killed over 10,000 people, brought the Arab world’s poorest country to the brink of famine and sparked a cholera outbreak.