Ye­men govt launches new push on key port

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE -

ADEN, Ye­men/GENEVA: Ye­meni forces backed by the Arab coali­tion launched Fri­day a “vast of­fen­sive” to wrest full con­trol of the port city of Hodeida from Houthi rebels, the in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized gov­ern­ment based in the south­ern city of Aden said.

The an­nounce­ment came as the United Na­tions High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees warned that many peo­ple re­mained trapped in the city by the fight­ing.

It also said nearly half a mil­lion peo­ple have fled the area since June.

“A mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion has be­gun and the na­tional army forces have ad­vanced to­wards the north and the west­ern sides of the city of Hodeida, pro­gress­ing on all fronts with the sup­port of the Arab coali­tion,” the gov­ern­ment said in a state­ment.

“Fierce bat­tles are tak­ing place at th­ese mo­ments.”

A to­tal of 110 Houthi rebels have been killed in 24 hours of clashes along with 22 pro-gov­ern­ment troops, med­i­cal sources said Fri­day.

The lat­est deaths raised to 382 the num­ber of fighters killed on both sides in­side the city and around the prov­ince since the bat­tle for Hodeida in­ten­si­fied on Nov. 1.

Hours af­ter Fri­day’s an­nounce­ment, res­i­dents said the progress of coali­tion forces ap­peared lim­ited.

They said the Houthis had with­drawn from a hos­pi­tal in the eastern sub­urbs of Hodeida where fight­ing has been con­cen­trated in re­cent days but they re­mained in the area.

The Houthis raided the May 22 hos­pi­tal ear­lier this week, post­ing gun­men on its rooftop, ac­cord­ing to rights groups who voiced alarm for the fate of the staff and pa­tients.

The Houthis’ Masirah TV said the coali­tion had car­ried out more than 30 airstrikes Fri­day in the neigh­bor­hood of the hos­pi­tal, killing at least two civil­ians, in­clud­ing a girl, and leav­ing at least 15 other civil­ians wounded. The re­port could not be in­de­pen­dently ver­i­fied.

U.N. bod­ies have warned that an all-out at­tack on Hodeida, an en­try point for 80 per­cent of Ye­men’s food im­ports and aid re­lief, could trig­ger famine in the im­pov­er­ished state.

The United States and Bri­tain, which pro­vide arms and in­tel­li­gence to the coali­tion, have stepped up calls for a cease-fire in Ye­men, rais­ing pres­sure on Riyadh.

The UNHCR ex­pressed alarm over the fate of un­known num­bers of peo­ple trapped in Hodeida by the lat­est fight­ing. “As tes­ta­ment to how dire the sit­u­a­tion is, some 445,000 peo­ple from Hodeida Gover­norate have been forced to flee since June, ac­cord­ing to U.N. data,” spokes­woman Shabia Man­too told a news brief­ing in Geneva Fri­day.

IHS Markit Mid­dle East se­nior an­a­lyst Lu­dovico Car­lino said he ex­pected Saudi and UAE coali­tion forces to step up their as­sault in the com­ing days and “cap­ture” the port be­fore any talks start.

“Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE con­sider the cap­ture of Hodeida as an es­sen­tial pre­cur­sor to any peace talks with the Houthi move­ment, as this would al­low the Ye­meni gov­ern­ment to have much more po­lit­i­cal lever­age at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble,” he said.

“As such, fight­ing for con­trol of the port will prob­a­bly be­gin in earnest over the com­ing days, and in­ten­sify there­after,” Car­lino said, warn­ing the Houthis could “sab­o­tage” fa­cil­i­ties at the Hodeida port if forced to re­treat.

Both the United States and the United Na­tions are push­ing for peace talks on Ye­men to take place by the end of the year. –

Ye­meni pro-gov­ern­ment forces gather on the eastern out­skirts of Hodeida.

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