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Yemen truce off to rocky start, but calm prevails on day 1

Yemen ceasefire underway in key port city

Sanaa -- Yemen's flashpoint city of Hodeida was calm on Tuesday following heavy clashes that erupted after a United Nations-brokered ceasefire started at midnight, pro-government sources and residents said. The truce agreed at the U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Sweden came into effect at midnight Monday, but sources said heavy clashes and air raids continued after the deadline.

"There has been complete calm since 03:00 am Yemen time (7 p.m. Monday Eastern) in the city of Hodeida," a military source loyal to the government told AFP on Tuesday.

Residents confirmed by phone that there had been no fighting between the government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition and Iran-aligned Houthi rebels since 03:00 am.

But it was not possible to determine if the halt in fighting was in response to the ceasefire or just a temporary stoppage. Residents said that daily fighting would usually be fierce in the evening and at night, before coming to a standstill at dawn.

Hope for a more lasting peace

The two warring sides have however welcomed the truce in the strategic Red Sea province. Both the internationally-recognized government and the Houthi rebels said they would comply with the ceasefire.

Earlier this week, Houthi rebel foreign minister Hisham Sharaf told CBS News senior foreign correspondent Elizabeth Palmer that he believed the U.S., in particular, could help make the ceasefire work by pressuring its ally Saudi Arabia to ease the military campaign.

Yemen's rebels pin hope for peace on the U.S. government

"The U.S. as a state… has a lot of influence in our part of the world," Sharaf told Palmer at his office in Sanaa. "They control the weapons. They control a lot of politics in this area… So again, the U.S. can, number one, ask all parties to stop it."

The United Nations said on Monday that the deal was to be implemented at midnight, even though the agreement reached in Sweden last week included an "immediate ceasefire" in Hodeida and its surroundings.

A U.N. official, who requested anonymity, told AFP that the delay was necessary for "operational reasons".

U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths said on Sunday that the U.N. was working with both sides to ensure the ceasefire accord was "implemented timely and properly".

The truce is supposed to be followed by the withdrawal of fighters from Hodeida, whose port is the entry point for the vast majority of imports to Yemen.

A prisoner swap involving some 15,000 detainees is planned and a "mutual understanding" was reached to facilitate aid deliveries to Yemen's third city Taiz -- under the control of loyalists but besieged by rebels.

The two sides also agreed to meet again in late January for more talks to define the framework for negotiations on a comprehensive peace settlement.

Ahead of the ceasefire coming into force, residents in Hodeida city hoped Monday that it would lead to lasting peace.

"We are hopeful that things will go back to the way they were and that there would be no aggression, no airstrikes and lasting security," Amani Mohammed told AFP.

Another Hodeida resident, Mohammed al-Saikel, said he was optimistic the ceasefire would pave the way for a broader truce.

"We are hopeful about this ceasefire in Hodeida and one for Yemen in general," he said. "We will reach out in peace to whoever does the same."

For some, peace will come too late

 
North of Hodeida in Hajjah province, at a makeshift camp for Yemenis forced to flee their homes, CBS News' Palmer saw first-hand the desperation wrought by the grinding civil war in Yemen.

Having fled from Saudi airstrikes and vicious fighting, people in remote northern Yemen are now up against another killer: malnutrition.

Time running out for starving children in Yemen

Inside one tent, CBS News met a woman named Fatima who was frozen with grief and shock. Nurse Makia Mehdi explained that Fatima's baby had starved to death just last week.

A teenager named Sara is also deeply traumatized. In 2015, Saudi warplanes bombed another camp in the area and 43 people died. Sara saw it all and hasn't said a word since.

Makia guessed that 15,000 people in that district alone were marooned in misery and utterly destitute.

Mehdi works on a malnutrition ward at a hospital in rebel-held Sanaa, where she told Palmer there are at least 25 children being treated. Among them is tiny Assam, 2, who refuses the high-nutrient paste Mehdi offers him.

"He's vomiting," Mehdi explains. His hunger-wracked body is too frail to even keep down the food that could save his life.