By Reyam Mokhashef and Mohammed Ghobari

ADEN (Reuters) – Yemeni forces under a Saudi-led coalition said on Friday they had withdrawn from around the main Red Sea port of Hodeidah held by their foes the Houthis to help deter the Iran-aligned group’s advances in other parts of Yemen.

A joint statement by United Arab Emirates-backed forces, including the Giants Brigade, said there was no longer any purpose in maintaining positions around Hodeidah city in western Yemen, due to a truce in place there under a United Nations-sponsored pact.

The pact was agreed by the warring sides in late 2018 to spare Hodeidah, Yemen’s main entry point for commercial imports and aid flows, but a troop withdrawal by both sides stipulated under the deal had stalled since 2019.

“The joint forces recognised the mistake of remaining in defensive barricades, unable to fight under an international pact, while various front lines require support,” they said.

It was not clear if this was linked to a redeployment in south Yemen cited by coalition spokesman General Turki al-Malki, who on Wednesday denied reports about a Saudi military withdrawal from the south where security sources told Reuters the Saudi military had left a major base in Aden.

Three sources told Reuters the UAE-backed forces also left al-Durayhimi and al-Tahita south of Hodeidah city, and that Houthi forces had moved in.

A government-backed agency that runs camps for internally displaced people told Reuters some 450 families fled those areas to coalition-held Al-Khokha, 90 km (56 miles) south of Hodeidah.

There was no immediate comment from the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in March 2015 after the Houthis ousted the internationally recognised government from Sanaa. The war has been in military stalemate for years.

The Houthis have in recent weeks made territorial gains in gas-rich Marib, the Saudi-backed government’s last northern stronghold, and advanced on oil-rich Shabwa in the south.

The conflict is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The UAE largely ended its military presence in 2019 but holds sway via southern forces it armed and trained.

As part of intensified efforts to end the war, Washington has pressed Riyadh to lift restrictions by coalition warships on Houthi-held ports, a condition from the group to start ceasefire talks.

The blockade is a main factor in Yemen’s humanitarian crisis that has left millions of people facing starvation.

(Reporting by Reyam Mokhashef and Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Raissa Kasolowsky)