Saudi-led forces bat­tle Shi­ite rebels south of Hodeida

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - World -

TROOPS in a Saudi-led coalition cap­tured a town south of the port city of Hodeida on Thurs­day as fierce fight­ing and airstrikes pounded the area, of­fi­cials said, on the sec­ond day of an offensive to cap­ture the strate­gic har­bor.

Soldiers took the town of Nakhila in Ye­men’s ad-du­ray­himi dis­trict, some 20 kilo­me­ters (12.5 miles) south of Hodeida In­ter­na­tional Air­port, ac­cord­ing to the govern­ment-run SABA news agency.

Fight­ers con­tin­ued to move closer to the air­port in fight­ing Thurs­day.

The Saudi-led coalition backing Ye­men’s ex­iled govern­ment launched an as­sault on the port city of Hodeida (hoh-dy’-duh) on Wed­nes­day. The Red Sea port is the main en­try for food into a coun­try al­ready on the brink of famine.

The big­gest offensive of the years­long war in the Arab world’s poor­est na­tion has raised warn­ings from aid agen­cies that Ye­men’s hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter could deepen.

The at­tack is aimed at driv­ing out Ira­nian-aligned Shi­ite rebels known as Houthis, who have held Hodeida since 2015, and break the civil war’s long stale­mate. But it could set off a pro­longed street-by-street bat­tle that in­flicts heavy ca­su­al­ties.

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 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 al­ready at risk of starv­ing.

Early on Wed­nes­day, con­voys of ve­hi­cles headed to­ward the rebel-held city as heavy gun­fire rang out. The as­sault, part of an op­er­a­tion dubbed “Golden Vic­tory,” be­gan with coalition airstrikes and shelling by naval ships, ac­cord­ing to Saudi-owned satel­lite news chan­nels and state me­dia.

Bom­bard­ment was heavy, with one aid official re­port­ing 30 strikes in 30 min­utes.

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 na­tion of Eritrea were await­ing or­ders to move in from the west af­ter Ye­meni govern­ment forces seize Hodeida’s port, Ye­meni se­cu­rity of­fi­cials said.

Emi­rati forces with Ye­meni govern­ment troops moved in from the south near Hodeida’s air­port, while oth­ers sought to cut off Houthi sup­ply lines to the east, the of­fi­cials said. They spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity as they weren’t au­tho­rised to brief jour­nal­ists.

Ye­men’s ex­iled govern­ment “has ex­hausted all peace­ful and po­lit­i­cal means to re­move the Houthi mili­tia from the port of Hodeida,” it said in a state­ment. “Lib­er­a­tion of the port of Hodeida is a mile­stone in our strug­gle to re­gain Ye­men from the mili­tias.”

Four Emi­rati soldiers were killed in Wed­nes­day’s as­sault, the United Arab Emi­rates’ state-run news agency said, but gave no de­tails of how they died.

The Houthi-run Al Masirah satel­lite news chan­nel claimed rebel forces hit a Saudi coalition ship near Hodeida with two mis­siles. The Saudi-led coalition did not im­me­di­ately ac­knowl­edge the in­ci­dent.

Forces loyal to Ye­men’s ex­iled govern­ment and fight­ers led by Emi­rati troops had neared Hodeida in re­cent days. The port is some 150 kilo­me­ters (90 miles) south­west of Sanaa, Ye­men’s cap­i­tal, which has been in Houthi hands since Septem­ber 2014. The Saudi-led coalition en­tered the war in March 2015.

The United Na­tions and other aid groups al­ready had pulled their in­ter­na­tional staff from Hodeida ahead of the as­sault. The UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil was sched­uled to meet Thurs­day to dis­cuss the offensive.

The port has re­mained open, how­ever. Sev­eral ships ar­rived in re­cent days, in­clud­ing oil tankers, and there was no word from the coalition or the UN to stop work, ac­cord­ing to a se­nior port official, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he was not au­tho­rised to talk to the me­dia.

Aid groups nev­er­the­less warned of dis­as­ter.

More than 10,000 peo­ple have been killed in Ye­men’s civil war, which has dis­placed 2 mil­lion oth­ers and helped spawn a cholera epi­demic. Saudi-led airstrikes have killed large num­bers of civil­ians and dam­aged vi­tal in­fra­struc­ture.

The UN and Western na­tions say Iran has sup­plied the Houthis with weapons, from as­sault ri­fles to the bal­lis­tic mis­siles they have fired deep into Saudi Ara­bia, in­clud­ing at the cap­i­tal, Riyadh.

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. – AP

A Ye­meni sol­dier al­lied to the coun­try’s in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised govern­ment un­slings his ma­chine gun on the out­skirts of Sanaa, Ye­men on Fe­bru­ary 2. Photo: AP

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