Dozens killed in Ye­men bat­tle

The Phnom Penh Post - - FRONT PAGE - Fawaz al-Haidari and Ali­son Tah­mizian Meuse

YE­MENI pro-gov­ern­ment forces were locked in heavy fight­ing with rebels that left 39 peo­ple dead on Thursday, as they pressed a Saudi and UAE-backed of­fen­sive to re­take the key aid hub of Hodeida.

The clashes came as the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil pre­pared to hold ur­gent talks on the mil­i­tary oper­a­tion, which Rus­sia warned could have “cat­a­strophic con­se­quences” for the en­tire coun­try.

Ye­meni forces backed by a Saudi-led coali­tion launched an as­sault on Wednesday to re­take the port city of Hodeida, which has been con­trolled by the Iran-backed Huthi rebels along with the cap­i­tal Sanaa since 2014.

The Huthis suf­fered 30 fa­tal­i­ties on Thursday in clashes near Hodeida air­port south of the city, med­i­cal sources said. Nine pro-gov­ern­ment troops were killed in the same area, the medics said. Mil­i­tary sources said the deaths were caused by mines and snipers.

The UAE, a driv­ing force in the coali­tion, said four of its troops were killed on the first day of the of­fen­sive on Wednesday in­clud­ing at least one navy of­fi­cer.

The Huthis ear­lier said they had struck a coali­tion ship off the coast of Hodeida with two mis­siles.

Port re­mains open

On Thursday, au­thor­i­ties

at Hodeida port said the Red Sea life­line re­mained open to ship­ping.

“We still have seven ships in the port. The work in the port is nor­mal. And we have five other ships stand­ing by wait­ing out­side to en­ter,” port di­rec­tor Da­wood Fadel said.

Two Saudi and UAE aid ships were in the wa­ters off Hodeida, coali­tion spokesman Turki al-Ma­liki told Saudi state me­dia.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, which in­ter­vened against the Huthis in 2015 with the goal of restor­ing Ye­men’s gov­ern­ment to power, have pledged to en­sure a con­tin­u­ous flow of aid to the Arab world’s poor­est na­tion.

Ab­dul­lah al-Rabeeah, the head of Saudi Ara­bia’s King Sal­man Aid and Re­lief Cen­tre, held a press con­fer­ence onWed­nes­day night in which he sought to al­lay the fears of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

“This coali­tion will start to op­er­ate an air and sea bridge, as well as land, to transport aid and med­i­cal sup­plies, food, shel­ter and fuel other ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties to Hodeida prov­ince,” he told re­porters.

In­ter­na­tional aid groups have long warned against an of­fen­sive on Hodeida be­cause the port serves as the en­try point for 70 per­cent of Ye­men’s im­ports, as the coun­try teeters on the brink of famine.

“The at­tacks we have feared and warned against are no longer im­pend­ing, but un­der­way,” the Nor­we­gian Refugee Coun­cil’s act­ing coun­try di­rec­tor Christo­pher Mzembe said on Thursday.

“As airstrikes in­ten­sify and front­lines move closer to Hodeida city, so does the very real threat of harm to civil­ians in Hodeida,” he said, urg­ing the war­ring par­ties to re­turn to po­lit­i­cal ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to the NRC, nearly 15 per­cent ofYe­men’s sus­pected cholera cases have oc­curred in Hodeida gov­er­norate. The in­ter­na­tional aid group warned of a “high risk of a sec­ond out­break” should wa­ter sup­plies be dis­rupted.

Catas­tro­phe in mak­ing

The UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil has raised alarm over the mil­i­tary oper­a­tion, which it says could crip­ple des­per­ately needed de­liv­er­ies of com­mer­cial goods and hu­man­i­tar­ian aid to mil­lions in the aid­de­pen­dent coun­try.

“The of­fen­sive against Hodeida risks trig­ger­ing cat­a­strophic con­se­quences for all of Ye­men,” Rus­sia’s for­eign min­istry said in a state­ment on Thursday ahead of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil meet­ing later in the day.

The pop­u­la­tion may find it­self “on the brink of death” if the fight­ing leads to a block­ade of the port, it said.

Moscow added that the as­sault would deal a ma­jor blow to the “prospects of a po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment”.

Ye­men’s in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised gov­ern­ment ear­lier pro­nounced ne­go­ti­a­tions had failed to force the rebels from Hodeida, and a grace pe­riod for UN-led peace ef­forts was over.

Aides to the Ye­meni pres­i­dent, who has spent much of the war in ex­ile in Riyadh, said he was pre­par­ing on Thursday to visit the south­ern port city of Aden, where the gov­ern­ment set up its base af­ter it was ousted from Sanaa.

“Pres­i­dent Abedrabbo Man­sour Hadi will ar­rive to the in­terim cap­i­tal of Aden in the com­ing hours . . . from Saudi Ara­bia, along with a num­ber of his ad­vi­sors and se­nior of­fi­cials,” a se­nior Ye­meni gov­ern­ment source said.

Ye­meni Prime Min­is­ter Ahmed bin Dagher re­turned to Aden early Thursday, the source said, with a num­ber of min­is­ters from Cairo.

NA­TIONAL

NA­BIL HAS­SAN/AFP

A col­umn of Ye­meni pro-gov­ern­ment forces and ar­moured ve­hi­cles ar­rives in al-Du­ray­himi dis­trict, about nine kilo­me­tres south of Hodei­dah in­ter­na­tional air­port, on Wednesday.

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