Civil­ians trapped as fight­ing es­ca­lates

Hawke's Bay Today - - World - Ye­men

De­spite US calls for a cease-fire, fight­ing is es­ca­lat­ing in a strate­gic Ye­meni port city, threat­en­ing the lives of hun­dreds of thou­sands of civil­ians and deep­en­ing a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in which mil­lions are at risk from a loom­ing famine.

The clashes in Hodeida, pit­ting a US-backed re­gional coali­tion led by Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates against north­ern Houthi rebels, have caused nu­mer­ous civil­ian ca­su­al­ties over the past week, ac­cord­ing to res­i­dents, health work­ers and aid agen­cies. The vi­o­lence is edg­ing closer to med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties, threat­en­ing the safety of pa­tients and med­i­cal work­ers.

The fight­ing has par­tic­u­larly in­ten­si­fied near Hodeida’s port, through which passes more than 70 per cent of all food, fuel, medicine and other es­sen­tial sup­plies des­tined for the north­ern part of the coun­try, where the large ma­jor­ity of Ye­me­nis live. If the port is dam­aged, it could be cat­a­strophic for mil­lions of Ye­me­nis, aid work­ers said.

“Hodeida is once again trapped in vi­o­lence with hun­dreds of thou­sands of Ye­me­nis caught in the mid­dle,” Fabrizio Car­boni, a se­nior of­fi­cial with the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross, said.

Res­i­dents said they re­main con­fined in­side their houses as bat­tles rage out­side. Houthi rebels have dug in, pa­trolling the streets in ma­chine gun-mounted pick­ups and de­ploy­ing fighters in build­ings, houses, even hos­pi­tals, prompt­ing fears that they are us­ing civil­ians as hu­man shields.

The coali­tion, mean­while, has con­ducted scores of airstrikes and de­ployed US-made he­li­copters to tar­get areas in and around Hodeida, in­clud­ing res­i­den­tial neigh­bour­hoods.

“We have been re­ceiv­ing a lot of civil­ian ca­su­al­ties,” said Mareb Almah­weeti, a sur­geon at a mil­i­tary hos­pi­tal in the city, adding that many of the in­jured were struck by shrap­nel from airstrikes.

“The Apache he­li­copters are bomb­ing many areas around the city most of the day,” he added. “We also hear airstrikes most of the day. The bomb­ing is closer than be­fore.”

Af­ter be­sieg­ing Hodeida over the sum­mer, the coali­tion launched a new of­fen­sive a week ago, two days af­ter US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo called for a cease-fire and peace talks within 30 days. An ar­ray of mili­tias, aligned with the UAE and the em­bat­tled Ye­meni gov­ern­ment, pushed for­ward into the city, backed by airstrikes and heavy ar­tillery.

The coali­tion of Sunni Mus­lim coun­tries is seek­ing to oust the Shi­ite rebels and re­store Ye­men’s in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised gov­ern­ment, not least be­cause the Houthis are widely said to be backed by Iran. The United States is aid­ing the coali­tion by re­fu­elling its war­planes and through in­tel­li­gence and bil­lions of dol­lars in arms sales.

The es­ca­lat­ing blood­shed is alarm­ing the United Na­tions and West­ern aid agen­cies, which in most parts of Ye­men are the sole in­sti­tu­tions as­sist­ing the 14 mil­lion peo­ple — nearly half the pop­u­la­tion — who are on the brink of famine. More than 3 mil­lion Ye­me­nis have fled their homes and hun­dreds of thou­sands more could soon fol­low if the bat­tle for Hodeida con­tin­ues.

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