Yemen govt launches new push on key port
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They said the Houthis had withdrawn from a hospital in the eastern suburbs of Hodeida where fighting has been concentrated in recent days but they remained in the area.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.