Soldiers with a military coalition in Yemen backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates stand guard in the port city of Hodeida on January 22. Photo: AFP

The Yemeni government and the H0uthi insurgents have agreed on the first phase of a withdrawal of forces from the key city of Hodeida, a move the United Nations described Sunday as significant progress.

The pullback from Hodeida was a key provision of a ceasefire agreement reached in December in Sweden, but deadlines to shift forces away from the ports and parts of the city have not been met.

The Red Sea port is the entry point for most of the war-ravaged Arab republic’s imported goods and humanitarian aid, providing a lifeline to millions.

Following two days of negotiations in Hodeida city, the government and Houthis finalized a deal on the first phase of the withdrawal and also agreed in principle on the second phase, a UN statement said.

The talks were led by Danish General Michael Lollesgaard, chair of a redeployment coordination committee (RCC) that includes the government and the Houthis.

“After lengthy but constructive discussions facilitated by the RCC Chair, the parties reached an agreement on Phase 1 of the mutual redeployment of forces,” said the UN statement.

The sides made “important progress on planning for the redeployment of forces” but no date was set for beginning the demilitarization.

“The parties also agreed, in principle, on Phase 2 of the mutual redeployment, pending additional consultations within their respective leadership.”

The first phase provides for a withdrawal from the ports of Hodeida, Saleef and Ras Issa, and from parts of Hodeida city where there are humanitarian facilities.

The United Nations is hoping that a de-escalation in Hodeida will allow urgently needed food and medical aid to reach millions on the brink of starvation in the Arab world’s poorest country.

A new round is planned within a week to finalize details on the second phase of redeployment, the UN statement said.

The ceasefire and a Hodeida pullback agreed in Stockholm have been hailed as a major step toward ending Yemen’s nearly four-year war.

– with reporting by Agence France-Presse

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