Ye­men clashes threaten aid

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD -

BAT­TLES raged on Mon­day near a Ye­meni port cru­cial for hu­man­i­tar­ian aid, but Saudi Ara­bia and its al­lies said they were com­mit­ted to de-es­ca­lat­ing hos­til­i­ties with rebels as calls for a cease­fire mount.

The UN has ap­pealed for ur­gent peace talks and warned that an as­sault on the Red Sea port city of Hodeida would threaten mil­lions of lives.

Ye­meni gov­ern­ment forces, backed by a re­gional mil­i­tary coali­tion led by Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE, say they are now po­si­tioned around both the north and south of Hodeida, where clashes have left dozens dead.

The city and its port have been con­trolled by the Huthis – Iran-backed Shi­ite in­sur­gents who hail from north­ern Ye­men – since 2014 along with the cap­i­tal Sanaa.

Rebels and gov­ern­ment sources both re­ported in­tense fight­ing in the area on Mon­day, de­spite calls by the UN and the US – which pro­vides mil­i­tary sup­port to the Saudi-led camp – for an end to the war.

A source in the Saudi-led coali­tion said the clashes were not “of­fen­sive op­er­a­tions”, adding that the al­liance was “com­mit­ted to keep­ing the Hodeida port open”.

But three of­fi­cials with the Ye­meni mil­i­tary said fight­ing con­tin­ued to flare around Hodeida, whose port is the en­try point for three-quar­ters of the coun­try’s im­ports.

The head of the Huthi’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary coun­cil, Mo­hammed Ali al-Huthi, on Mon­day re­ported a “mil­i­tary es­ca­la­tion by the coali­tion,” slam­ming the op­er­a­tion as “a stren­u­ous at­tempt to block talks aimed at end­ing the war and find­ing peace”.

Ye­meni mil­i­tary of­fi­cials said the coali­tion had sent fighter jets and Apache at­tack he­li­copters on Mon­day morn­ing to back up troops on the ground around Hodeida.

The of­fi­cials say gov­ern­ment forces are try­ing to ad­vance on the out­skirts of Hodeida with the aim of sur­round­ing the city and cut­ting off a ma­jor rebel sup­ply route.

The coali­tion source, how­ever, said the gov­ern­ment al­liance was “com­mit­ted to de-es­ca­lat­ing hos­til­i­ties in Ye­men and strongly sup­port­ive of the UN en­voy’s po­lit­i­cal process”.

“If the Huthis fail to show up for peace talks again, this might lead [us] to restart the of­fen­sive op­er­a­tion in Hodeida,” the source said.

“The hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion in Ye­men is un­ac­cept­able. We are com­mit­ted to end­ing the con­flict as soon as pos­si­ble,” they added.

UN en­voy Martin Grif­fiths aims to bring the gov­ern­ment of Abedrabbo Man­sour Hadi and the Huthis to Swe­den for talks this month.

The char­ity Save the Children said on Mon­day that the fight­ing in Hodeida was “deeply con­cern­ing” ahead of plans for peace talks, call­ing for an im­me­di­ate cease­fire “so more lives aren’t lost”.

“This se­ri­ous es­ca­la­tion around Ye­men’s most im­por­tant port city could put tens of thou­sands of children in the line of fire and fur­ther choke de­liv­ery of food and medicine,” said Tamer Kiro­los, the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s Ye­men di­rec­tor.

“Save the Children staff in Hodeida re­ported al­most 100 air strikes over the week­end, five times as many as in the whole first week of Oc­to­ber,” he said.

The char­ity es­ti­mates an av­er­age of 100 Ye­meni children die each day from ex­treme hunger or dis­ease.

Dozens killed in fight­ing

The Saudi-led al­liance had sus­pended an of­fen­sive to take Hodeida in Au­gust, ahead of UN ef­forts to hold ne­go­ti­a­tions in Geneva which col­lapsed the fol­low­ing month.

The Huthis re­fused to travel to Switzerla nd un­less t he UN g ua ra nteed both t heir del­e­ga­tion’s safe re­turn to Sanaa and the evac­u­a­tion of wounded f ighters.

The rebels have reg ularly tar­geted Saudi Ara­bian bor­der tow ns as well as t he capita l Riyad h wit h ba l l ist ic mis­siles.

Saudi Ara­bia and its al­lies ac­cuse Iran of us­ing Hodeida port to smug­gle mis­siles to the Huthis, a charge Tehran de­nies.

Medics at two hospi­tals in Hodeida prov­ince, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity, said they have counted the bod­ies of 74 rebels since Sun­day and that dozens more were wounded.

Sources at a mil­i­tary hospi­tal in gov­ern­ment-held Mokha, south of Hodeida, said 15 troops were killed over the same pe­riod.

Saudi Ara­bia’s state me­dia has re­ported the deaths of at least six sol­diers “along the south­ern bor­der” in the past week, with­out giv­ing fur­ther de­tails.

Saudi Ara­bia has faced vir­u­lent in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism for lead­ing an in­ter­ven­tion in Ye­men in 2015 to bol­ster Hadi’s gov­ern­ment in the face of the Huthi in­sur­gency, and Khashoggi’s mur­der has put its bomb­ing cam­paign un­der fresh scru­tiny.

MO­HAMMED HUWAIS/AFP

A Ye­meni child re­ceives treat­ment at a hospi­tal in the cap­i­tal Sanaa, on Oc­to­ber 31. Ye­men’s bru­tal con­flict has since 2015 left some 10,000 peo­ple dead.

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