Battle for Yemen's biggest port under way

Elias Hubbard
June 13, 2018

A view of the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen May 10, 2017.

Coalition warplanes and warships are carrying out strikes on Houthi fortifications to support ground operations by Yemeni troops massed south of the Red Sea port, the internationally recognised Yemeni government in exile said in a statement issued by its media office.

The United Nations fears the assault could drastically worsen already desperate conditions in the region's poorest country. The port remains crucial for incoming aid, food and medicine for a nation driven to the brink of starvation by the conflict and a Saudi-led blockade.

The Arab states hope for a swift victory that would force the Iran-aligned Houthis to negotiate.

Western countries, particularly the United States and Britain, have quietly backed the Arab states diplomatically and sell them billions of dollars a year in arms, but have mostly avoided direct public involvement so far in the Yemen conflict.

The battle for Hudaida, if the Houthis don't withdraw, also may mark the first major street-to-street urban fighting for the Saudi-led coalition, which can be deadly for both combatants and civilians alike.

Yemen's exiled government "has exhausted all peaceful and political means to remove the Houthi militia from the port of Hodeida", it said in a statement.

The Red Sea port is the only port under Houthi control, situated about 150km southwest of the capital, Sanaa.

"Such hostile acts by the Iran-backed Houthi militias prove the continuing involvement of the Iranian regime in supporting the Houthi militias with qualitative capabilities in a flagrant and explicit violation of the two United Nations resolutions No. 2216 and 2231 with the objective of threatening the security of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as the regional and worldwide stability", the spokesman said.

The UAE, one of the main members of the coalition backing the government of Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, had set a Tuesday deadline for the Houthi rebels to withdraw from the city under UN-led negotiations or face an assault.

The Arab states' aim is to box in the Houthis in Sanaa, cut their supply lines and force them to the negotiating table.

The United Nations had been trying to get the parties to reach a deal to avert an attack.

In Geneva, ICRC spokeswoman Marie-Claire Feghali said that the assault was "likely to exacerbate an already catastrophic humanitarian situation in Yemen", where water and electricity networks are vital to the civilian population's survival.

The renewed push on Hodeidah comes amid increased tensions between Saudi Arabia and arch-foe Iran after the United States withdrew last month from an worldwide nuclear agreement with Tehran, a move hailed by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. The Houthis, drawn from a Shi'ite minority that ruled a thousand-year kingdom in Yemen until 1962, deny they are Iranian pawns. They say they have led a popular revolution against corruption and are defending the country from invaders.

But Riyadh and Abu Dhabi maintain that the port is being used to smuggle weapons.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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