Government Forces Leave Yemeni City

SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Forces loyal to Yemen's internationally recognized government have withdrawn from the strategic port city of Hodeida, allowing the rebels to retake their positions, Yemeni officials and the U.N. said.

The Joint Forces, backed by the United Arab Emirates, said late Friday they redeployed troops from Hodeida because there was no need to stay in the city amid a U.N.-brokered cease-fire deal.

They criticized the government for not allowing them to retake control of the city from the Houthi rebels. The Joint Forces say the rebels repeatedly violated the 2018 deal that ended their offensive against Hodeida.

A U.N. mission observing the cease-fire said government-allied forces have withdrawn from their positions in the city and areas south of the city and the Houthis have taken over the vacated positions. It said it wasn't notified before the withdrawal.

In 2018, heavy fighting erupted in Hodeida after government forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition moved in to wrest control of the strategic port city from the Houthis.

After months of clashes, the warring sides signed a U.N.-brokered agreement in December 2018 that included a cease-fire in the city and an exchange of more than 15,000 prisoners.

The deal, seen as an important first step toward ending the broader conflict, was never fully implemented.

Yemen's war began with the 2014 takeover of the capital of Sanaa by the Houthis, who control much of the country's north. A Saudi-led coalition launched a bombing campaign months later, determined to restore the government and oust the rebels.

The grinding regional proxy war has killed tens of thousands of civilians and fighters. The war also created the world's worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushing the country to the brink of famine.

The Joint Forces said they recognized the mistake of remaining in defensive positions without fighting in Hodeida as other government-held areas face intensified attacks by the Houthis.

In recent months, the Houthis have attacked government forces in different areas, including the provinces of Shabwa, Bayda and Marib, despite calls by the U.N., U.S. and others to stop fighting and engage in negotiations to find a settlement to the conflict.