A container ship carrying general cargo goods entered Yemen’s Red Sea port of Hodeidah for the first time since 2016 as the port has been under a blockade imposed by the US-backed Saudi-led coalition, Reuters reported on Sunday.
The ship entered Hodeidah on Saturday, and its arrival comes as the Houthis are in talks with the Saudis and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government on reaching a peace deal or reinstating a ceasefire that expired in October.
An official from the Saudi-backed government told Reuters that allowing commercial ships to dock in Hodeidah was meant as a trust-building step to support Saudi-Houthi talks. The Arab Weekly reported last week that the two sides were close to a settlement and agreed on most issues but said they were still at odds over the issue of weapons possession.
In January, the UN envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, said that he was encouraged by renewed Omani mediation efforts to end the war. Oman has remained neutral in the conflict as it declined to join Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other Gulf nations in their initial US-backed intervention in Yemen in 2015.
In 2016, the UN established an inspection body for ships entering Yemen, known as the Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM). Over the past seven years, the UNVIM has only approved ships carrying specific cargo, such as fuel and food, not general cargo.
“The mechanism previously only provided clearance for specific shipments but now UNVIM is granting clearances for all kinds of shipments to Hodeidah port,” an official in charge of the Houthi Red Sea Ports Corporation told Reuters.
The Houthis have long maintained that a full lifting of the blockade on Yemen was required as a pre-condition for any serious political settlement. During the ceasefire that expired in October, the Saudis allowed limited flights from the Sanaa airport and allowed more fuel ships to dock in Hodeidah but didn’t fully lift the embargo.
The US has previously claimed that Yemen is not under blockade even when the Saudis were still stopping fuel ships from entering Hodeidah. But the fact that ships carrying general cargo haven’t entered Yemen in years demonstrates the fact that the country has been under a strict blockade.
Since 2015, the US-backed war and blockade on Yemen have killed at least 377,000 people, more than half of whom died because of starvation and disease caused by the siege.