Saudi-led forces be­gin as­sault on Yemen port city of Hodeida

Iran Daily - - Front Page -

A Saudi-led coali­tion back­ing be­gan an as­sault Wed­nes­day on the Ye­meni port city of Hodeida, the main en­try for food into a coun­try al­ready on the brink of famine, rais­ing warn­ings from aid agen­cies that Yemen’s hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter could deepen.

The as­sault on the Red Sea port aims to tar­get Houthis and their al­lies who have held Hodeida since 2015 and could bring the first ma­jor street-to-street fight­ing for the coali­tion, a po­ten­tially dragged out bat­tle deadly for com­bat­ants and civil­ians alike, AP re­ported.

The fear is that a pro­tracted fight could force a shut­down of Hodeida’s port at a time when a halt in aid risks tip­ping mil­lions into star­va­tion. Some 70 per­cent of Yemen’s food enters the coun­try via the port, as well as the bulk of hu­man­i­tar­ian aid and fuel sup­plies. Around two-thirds of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion of 27 mil­lion re­lies on aid and 8.4 mil­lion are even worse off, at risk of starv­ing al­ready.

Be­fore dawn Wed­nes­day, con­voys of ve­hi­cles ap­peared to be heading to­ward the city, ac­cord­ing to videos posted on so­cial media. The sound of heavy, sus­tained gun­fire clearly could be heard in the back­ground.

Saudi-owned satel­lite news chan­nels and later state media an­nounced the bat­tle had be­gun, cit­ing mil­i­tary sources. They also re­ported coali­tion airstrikes and shelling by naval ships.

The ini­tial bat­tle plan ap­peared to in­volve a pin­cer move­ment. Some 2,000 troops who crossed the Red Sea from an Emi­rati naval base in the African coun­try of Eritrea landed west of the city with plans to seize Hodeida’s port, Ye­meni se­cu­rity of­fi­cials said.

Emi­rati troops with Ye­meni forces loyal to former Ye­meni gov­ern­ment moved in from the south near Hodeida’s air­port, while oth­ers sought to cut off Houthi sup­ply lines to the east, the of­fi­cials said.

The Houthi-run Al-masirah satel­lite news chan­nel later ac­knowl­edged the of­fen­sive, say­ing Houthi forces hit a Saudi coali­tion ship near Hodeida with two mis­siles. Houthi forces have fired mis­siles at ships pre­vi­ously.

“The tar­geted ship was car­ry­ing troops pre­pared for a land­ing on the coast of Hodeida,” the chan­nel said.

The port city, home to 600,000 peo­ple, is some 150 kilo­me­ters (90 miles) south­west of Sana’a, Yemen’s cap­i­tal and has been held by the Houthis since they swept into the city in Septem­ber 2014. Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emi­rates and a bloc of other coun­tries in­ter­vened in Yemen the fol­low­ing year with the goal of restor­ing the former gov­ern­ment to power and has re­ceived lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port from the US.

Emi­rati Min­is­ter of State for For­eign Af­fairs An­war Gar­gash ear­lier told French news­pa­per Le Fi­garo the dead­line for a with­drawal from Hodeida by the Houthis ex­pired early Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

The United Na­tions on Mon­day with­drew its in­ter­na­tional staff from Hodeida, say­ing an at­tack would “im­pact hun­dreds of thou­sands of in­no­cent civil­ians.”

The UN has warned that the likely “cat­a­strophic hu­man­i­tar­ian im­pact” would be wors­ened due to Hodeida’s key role as an en­try point for aid and com­mer­cial goods.

“Cut­ting off im­ports through Hodeida for any length of time will put Yemen’s pop­u­la­tion at ex­treme, un­jus­ti­fi­able risk,” Lise Grande, UN hu­man­i­tar­ian co­or­di­na­tor for Yemen, said.

“If this vi­tal route for sup­ply­ing food, fuel and medicine is blocked, the re­sult will be more hunger, more peo­ple with­out health care and more fam­i­lies bury­ing their loved ones,” Ox­fam’s coun­try di­rec­tor in Yemen, Muhsin Sid­diquey, warned last week.

The port re­mains open, with sup­plies ar­riv­ing. Sev­eral ships have ar­rived in re­cent days, in­clud­ing oil tankers, and there has been no word from the coali­tion or UN to stop work, ac­cord­ing to a se­nior port of­fi­cial.

The coali­tion has blocked most ports, let­ting sup­plies into Hodeida in co­or­di­na­tion with the UN.

The air cam­paign and fight­ing have dis­rupted other sup­ply lines, caus­ing an eco­nomic cri­sis that makes food too ex­pen­sive for many to af­ford.

AFP

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