Arab-led coali­tion launches as­sault on Hu­daida port

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE -

ADEN/ABU DHABI: A coali­tion of Arab states launched an at­tack on Ye­men’s main port city Wed­nes­day in the largest bat­tle of the war, aim­ing to bring the rul­ing Houthi move­ment to its knees at the risk of wors­en­ing the world’s big­gest hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis.

Arab war­planes and war­ships pounded Houthi for­ti­fi­ca­tions to sup­port ground oper­a­tions by for­eign and Ye­meni troops massed south of the port of Hu­daida in op­er­a­tion “Golden Vic­tory.”

Four Emi­rati sol­diers were killed in the as­sault, a state­ment from the United Arab Emi­rates armed forces said. These are the first deaths con­firmed by the coali­tion forces.

Fight­ing raged near Hu­daida air­port and Al-Du­rayhmi, a ru­ral area 10 km south of the city, me­dia con­trolled by the Arab states and their Ye­meni al­lies re­ported.

The Houthis, how­ever, said that they foiled the coali­tion’s at­tack on Hu­daida, ac­cord­ing to the Hezbol­lah-linked War Me­dia Cen­ter.

The as­sault marks the first time the Arab states have tried to cap­ture such a heav­ily de­fended ma­jor city since join­ing the war three years ago against the Iran-aligned Houthis, who con­trol Sanaa and most of the pop­u­lated ar­eas.

The coali­tion’s plan is to take con­trol only of the air­port and sea­port, plus the route lead­ing to the Ye­meni cap­i­tal of Sanaa, spokesman Turki al-Ma­liki said. “We will not fight a street war with the Houthis in Hu­daida city for the safety of civil­ians,” he told al-Ha­dath TV.

The op­er­a­tion be­gan af­ter a three-day dead­line set by the United Arab Emi­rates for the Houthis to quit the port.

Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE an­nounced what they say is a “mul­ti­fac­eted plan” to pro­tect civil­ians, in­cludes es­tab­lish­ing routes for food, medical sup­plies and oil ship­ments to Hu­daida from Saudi Ara­bia’s south­ern city of Jizan and the UAE’s cap­i­tal, Abu Dhabi.

The two coun­tries also vowed to dis­trib­ute ur­gently needed food sup­plies and to pro­vide hos­pi­tals in Hu­daida with medical equip­ment and staff.

The United Na­tions said 22 mil­lion Ye­me­nis are in need of hu­man­i­tar­ian aid, with 8.4 mil­lion on the verge of famine – a fig­ure that could rise to 10 mil­lion by the end of this year. For most the port is the only route for food sup­plies.

De­spite the fight­ing, the U.N. kept up its aid sup­plies. “We are there and de­liv­er­ing, we are not leav­ing Hu­daida,” said Lise Grande, U.N. hu­man­i­tar­ian co­or­di­na­tor for Ye­men.

The U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil is due to meet be­hind closed doors Thurs­day – at the re­quest of Bri­tain, diplo­mats said.

The Houthis de­ployed mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles and troops in the city cen­ter and near the port, as war­planes struck the coast to the south, a res­i­dent told Reuters.

CARE In­ter­na­tional, one of the few aid agen­cies still there, said 30 airstrikes hit the city within half an hour. “Some civil­ians are en­trapped, oth­ers forced from their homes. We thought it could not get any worse, but un­for­tu­nately we were wrong,” CARE’s act­ing coun­try direc­tor, Jolien Veld­wijk said.

Saudi-owned Al Ara­biya TV quoted wit­nesses de­scrib­ing “con­cen­trated and in­tense” bomb­ing near the port it­self.

The U.N. spe­cial en­voy to Ye­men, Martin Grif­fiths, said the world body was talk­ing to both sides to try to avert a bat­tle. “We call on them to ex­er­cise re­straint & en­gage with po­lit­i­cal ef­forts to spare Hu­daida a mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion,” he tweeted.

The coali­tion said it would try to keep the port run­ning and can ease the cri­sis once they seize it by lift­ing im­port re­stric­tions they have im­posed. Port work­ers said five ships were docked at Hu­daida port un­load­ing goods, but no new en­try per­mits would be is­sued Wed­nes­day.

Houthi leader Mo­ham­mad Ali alHouthi crit­i­cized the Gulf Arabs’ western al­lies. “

The Bri­tish told us a week ago that the Emi­ratis and the Saudis had told them they would not en­ter the bat­tle of Hu­daida with­out their agree­ment and as­sis­tance,” he said.

“So we hold them and Amer­ica re­spon­si­ble for any new bat­tle in Hu­daida,” he added.

Ex­iled Pres­i­dent Abed Rab­bou Man­sour al-Hadi, said his gov­ern­ment had pro­posed com­pro­mises but added that he would not let the Houthis hold the Ye­meni peo­ple “hostage to a pro­longed war which the Houthis ig­nited.

The coali­tion at­tack on the port is the big­gest of Ye­men’s war.

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