Troops en­ter rebel bas­tion

The Weekend Australian - - WORLD -

Ye­meni pro-gov­ern­ment forces backed by Saudi-led coali­tion war­planes have ad­vanced in­side rebel-held Hodeida, leav­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of civil­ians brac­ing for fight­ing in the streets of the Red Sea port city.

Af­ter a week of in­tense bat­tles with the Iran-backed Houthi rebels on the out­skirts of Hodeida, loy­al­ist troops reached res­i­den­tial neigh­bour­hoods, us­ing bull­doz­ers to re­move con­crete blocks in­stalled by the rebels.

Flash­ing vic­tory signs, troops of the United Arab Emi­rat­es­trained Gi­ants Bri­gade armed with au­to­matic weapons and rocket-pro­pelled grenades rolled down the city’s streets in util­i­ties.

Three mil­i­tary sources said that gov­ern­ment forces and their coali­tion al­lies were edg­ing to­wards the city’s port through which nearly 80 per cent of Ye­men’s com­mer­cial im­ports and prac­ti­cally all UN-su­per­vised hu­man­i­tar­ian aid pass. Columns headed for the docks ad­vanced 2km along the main road from the in­te­rior to the east and 3km along the coast road from the south, the sources said.

“Ei­ther the rebels sur­ren­der the city peace­fully or we take it by force, but we will take it ei­ther way,” com­man­der Moam­mar alSaidy said yes­ter­day.

Rebel chief Ab­dul­ma­lik alHouthi vowed on Thurs­day his fighters would never sur­ren­der de­spite be­ing out­num­bered.

Coali­tion war­planes bombed rebel po­si­tions as the ground forces ad­vanced. At least 47 Houthi fighters were killed, hos­pi­tal sources in rebel-held areas said.

Medics at hos­pi­tals in gov­ern­ment-held ter­ri­tory said 11 sol­diers were killed. The deaths brought the over­all toll from seven days of fight­ing to 250 com­bat­ants killed — 197 rebels and 53 loy­al­ists.

Save the Chil­dren con­firmed the death of one civil­ian, a 15year-old boy who died of shrap­nel wounds sus­tained just out­side the city.

The Houthis have con­trolled Hodeida since 2014 when they over­ran the cap­i­tal Sanaa and then swept though much of the rest of the coun­try, trig­ger­ing Saudi-led mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion the fol­low­ing year and a dev­as­tat­ing war of at­tri­tion. The rebels have since been driven out of vir­tu­ally all of the south and much of the Red Sea coast.

Gov­ern­ment forces launched their of­fen­sive to re­take Hodeida in June backed by sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of Emi­rati ground troops. Their ad­vance into the city of 600,000 peo­ple has been slowed by trenches and mine­fields dug by the rebels around their last ma­jor coastal strong­hold, an army source said.

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