Yemen rebel chief vows no surrender
SANAA: Yemen’s rebel chief has vowed he would never surrender to Saudi-backed forces, as international aid groups appealed for safe passage for civilians caught in the flashpoint port of Hodeida.
After six days of intense battles that have left 200 combatants dead, pro-government forces pressed closer to the heart of Hodeida, the Red Sea city controlled by the Houthi rebels and under blockade by Saudi Arabia and its allies.
Plumes of smoke were seen billowing from the horizon as heavily armed pro-government forces moved towards the port on foot and on the back of utilities.
The coalition, an alliance led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, had sent fighter jets and Apache helicopters to cover Yemeni troops fighting rebels on the ground, a progovernment military source said.
In a lengthy televised speech from an undisclosed location, rebel chief Abdulmalik al-Houthi appeared on Wednesday to admit the alliance had made headway into Hodeida.
International aid groups have appealed to both the rebels and the alliance to allow civilians to escape the densely populated city of 600,000 people.
The International Committee of the Red Cross appealed for the warring parties to “spare civilians and civilian infrastructure” including ambulances, hospitals, electricity and water plants.
The first youngster was confirmed killed in the fighting on Wednesday, with Save the Children saying a 15-year-old had died of shrapnel wounds at a hospital in Hodeida.
Millions of people across Yemen are dependent on humanitarian aid to survive a deadly trifecta of war, disease and looming mass starvation — and nearly 80 per cent of that aid comes through Hodeida.
The US, which is providing vital logistical support to the coalition, called last week for a ceasefire, apparently to no avail.
State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said the US was reiterating to all parties that “there is no military victory that can be achieved in Yemen”.
He said the US had also told the Saudis and Emiratis that targeting humanitarian aid or critical infrastructure “is unacceptable”.
The Houthis, northern tribesmen linked to Iran, seized large parts of Yemen in a 2014 takeover, including the capital, Sanaa.
Saudi Arabia and its allies joined the Yemeni government’s war against the Houthis the following year, driving the rebels back but failing to retake Sanaa and Hodeida. Nearly 10,000 Yemenis have been killed since 2015 and the country stands on the brink of famine.
Mr Houthi acknowledged he was outnumbered but appeared undaunted even while appearing to admit to incursions by the Saudi-led coalition.
“The enemy benefits from its numbers, which it has increased even further to pressure the city of Hodeida,” he said.
“Does the enemy think that penetrating this or that area, or seizing this or that area, means we will be convinced that we should surrender and hand over control?
“This is not happening, and will not happen — ever.”
A medical source said the Houthis had forced medical staff out of the May 22 Hospital and stationed snipers on top of the building.
International aid groups rely on Hodeida to ship into Yemen aid — including basic vaccines and water sterilisation tablets.
On Wednesday they called for the urgent evacuation of residents. One of the city’s biggest hospitals, Al-Thawra, is now only “metres away from an active frontline”, said International Committee of the Red Cross spokeswoman Mirella Hodeib.
Juliette Touma, the spokeswoman for the UN Children’s Fund, said: “We’re talking about dying children who are currently at the hospital.”
At the UN, The Netherlands, Sweden and Peru rejected a draft text at the Security Council calling for an end to the fighting. The three countries said the draft, proposed by current chair China, did not go far enough in addressing the humanitarian crisis.