Saudi-led al­liance gears up for bat­tle in key Ye­meni port city de­spite UN warn­ing

Iran Daily - - International -

Com­piled from Dis­patches

A Saudi-led coali­tion geared up on Tues­day for an as­sault on Ye­men’s main port, pre­par­ing to launch by far the big­gest bat­tle of a three-year-old war be­tween an al­liance of Arab states and Ye­men de­spite the UN’S warn­ing that the as­sault could cost up to 250,000 lives.

The United Arab Emirates, one of the main mem­bers of the West­ern-backed al­liance, has set a Tues­day dead­line for the Houthi An­sarul­lah move­ment to with­draw from the port of Hodei­dah or face an as­sault.

It would be the first time since they joined the war on be­half of Ye­men’s ex­iled govern­ment that the for­eign armies have at­tempted to cap­ture such a well-de­fended ma­jor city.

Hodei­dah, Ye­men’s big­gest port and the only port con­trolled by the Houthis, serves as the life­line for the ma­jor­ity of Ye­men’s pop­u­la­tion, which lives in Houthi-ruled ter­ri­tory.

The United Na­tions said it was en­gaged in “in­tense” shut­tle diplo­macy be­tween the Houthis and coali­tion lead­ers Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE to avert the at­tack.

It es­ti­mates 600,000 peo­ple live in the area, and in a worst-case sce­nario a bat­tle could cost up to 250,000 lives, as well as cut­ting off mil­lions from aid and sup­plies.

Emi­rati-led troops have ad­vanced along the south­west­ern coast to the out­skirts of Hodei­dah un­der a coali­tion strat­egy to box in the Houthis in the cap­i­tal Sana’a and choke off their sup­ply lines to force them to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

Ye­men has been racked by vi­o­lence since 2014. The con­flict es­ca­lated in 2015 when Saudi Ara­bia and its al­lies launched a dev­as­tat­ing air cam­paign aimed at un­der­min­ing the Houthi An­sarul­lah move­ment and re­in­stat­ing for­mer pres­i­dent, Abd Rab­buh Mansur Hadi, a staunch ally of Riyadh.

Euro­pean donor gov­ern­ments warned aid groups in Ye­men on Satur­day that “a mil­i­tary as­sault now looks im­mi­nent,” ac­cord­ing to a mes­sage seen by Reuters. It said: “The Emi­ratis have in­formed us to­day that they will now give a 3-day grace pe­riod for the UN (and their part­ners) to leave the city.”

The UAE For­eign Min­istry and govern­ment com­mu­ni­ca­tion of­fice did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to Reuters’ re­quests for com­ment.

Of­fi­cials said Mon­day that the United Na­tions and the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee for the Red Cross with­drew their staff mem­bers from the be­sieged Ye­meni port city, fear­ing that the at­tack by forces led by the United Arab Emirates was im­mi­nent, ny­ re­ported.

The In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross said last week it had pulled 71 for­eign staff mem­bers out of Ye­men.

For­eign re­ac­tions

Saudi Ara­bia’s West­ern al­lies, un­der in­creas­ing scru­tiny for sell­ing arms to the states fight­ing in Ye­men, have not pub­licly made clear whether they ap­prove of an as­sault on Hodei­dah.

“We are, at the present mo­ment, in in­tense con­sul­ta­tion,” the United Na­tions Sec­re­tary Gen­eral An­tónio Guter­res said Mon­day. “There is a lull in the fight­ing to al­low for them, and I hope that it will be pos­si­ble to avoid a bat­tle for Hodei­dah.”

In Washington, bi­par­ti­san ef­forts were un­der­way in the US Se­nate to warn the Emirates and Saudi Ara­bia that a mil­i­tary as­sault on the port city could re­sult in the United States cut­ting off fund­ing for aerial re­fu­el­ing, which has been cru­cial to the Saudi air cam­paign there.

Al­though the US ad­min­is­tra­tion has de­vel­oped close ties with Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emirates, many mem­bers of Congress and in­ter­na­tional diplo­mats blame the two coun­tries for ex­ac­er­bat­ing what the United Na­tions says is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with in­dis­crim­i­nate at­tacks that have been re­spon­si­ble for thou­sands of civil­ian deaths.

A view of the Red Sea port of Hodei­dah, Ye­men, on Au­gust 16, 2017. ABDULJABBAR ZEYAD/REUTERS

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