Ye­men rebel chief vows no sur­ren­der

The Australian - - WORLD -

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.

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