Yemen troops advance deeper into Hodeida
HODEIDA, Yemen: Yemeni progovernment forces backed by Arab coalition warplanes advanced inside rebel-held Hodeida Thursday, leaving hundreds of thousands of civilians bracing for fighting in the streets of the Red Sea port city.
After a week of intense battles with the Iran-backed Houthi insurgents on the outskirts of Hodeida, loyalist troops reached residential neighborhoods, using bulldozers to remove concrete roadblocks installed by the rebels.
Flashing victory signs, troops of the United Arab Emirates-trained Giants Brigade armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades rolled down the city’s streets in pickup trucks bearing their brigade logo spray-painted in red, a journalist working for AFP reported.
Three military sources said that government forces and their coalition allies were edging towards the city’s vital port through which nearly 80 percent of Yemen’s commercial imports and practically all U.N.-supervised humanitarian aid pass.
Columns headed for the docks advanced 2 kilometers along the main road from the interior to the east and 3 kilometers along the coast road from the south, the sources said.
“Either the rebels surrender the city peacefully or we take it by force, but we will take it either way,” Cmdr. Moammar al-Saidy said.
Coalition planes bombed rebel positions as ground forces advanced.
At least 47 Houthi fighters were killed, hospital sources in rebel-held areas told AFP.
Medics at hospitals in government-held territory said 11 soldiers were killed. The deaths bring the overall toll from seven days of fighting to 250 combatants killed – 197 rebels and 53 loyalists.
Aid group Save the Children confirmed the death of one civilian, a 15year-old boy who died of shrapnel wounds sustained just outside the city.
The Houthis have controlled Hodeida since 2014 when they overran the capital Sanaa and then swept though much of the rest of the country, triggering an Arab military intervention the following year and a devastating war of attrition. The rebels have since been driven out of virtually all of the south and much of the Red Sea coast.
Government forces launched their offensive to retake Hodeida in June backed by significant numbers of Emirati ground troops.
Their advance into the city of some 600,000 people has been slowed by trenches and minefields dug by the rebels around their last major coastal stronghold, an army source said.
Pro-government forces told AFP Thursday that military operations were ongoing with fierce clashes rocking the city after dark.
“We will clean the streets of the city … of Houthi militias and we will continue to advance beyond Hodeida,” fighter Fadel Abbas said.
But rebel chief Abdul-Malik al-Houthi vowed late Wednesday that his fighters would never surrender despite being seriously outnumbered. “This is not happening and will not happen ever,” he said. And the rebels said Thursday evening that they had “cut the supply routes” for pro-government forces in four parts of Hodeida province outside the city.
The rebel-controlled Saba news agency said Houthi forces were using loudspeakers to call on loyalist fighters to surrender. North Hodeida is still under total rebel control. While some shops had shuttered their windows, a vegetable market was bustling as armed men could be seen patrolling the area. Pedestrians and cars poured into Jizan Road, a main street in the city’s north.
Aid groups have appealed to both the rebels and the coalition to provide safe passage for fleeing civilians and halt fighting around hospitals.
Amnesty International accused the rebels of “deliberate militarization” of one of Hodeida’s main hospitals, saying they had placed snipers on the roof of the facility in the May 22 district.
At another of the city’s major hospitals, Al-Thawra, just meters from the front line, a 10-year-old boy died of malnutrition, the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF reported.
“We’re running out of words to describe how wretched the situation is,” Fabrizio Carboni, International Committee of the Red Cross Middle East director, said in a statement. –
Yemeni pro-government forces gather on a highway as they advance towards central Hodeida.