Yemen offensive could bring disaster
• The Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen defied the UN Wednesday and launched a major assault on the port of Hodeidah, despite warnings that the destruction of the country’s most vital lifeline could lead to the deaths of 250,000 people.
The offensive sets the stage for what could be the largest battle of the threeyear war, as Yemeni forces supported by Saudi Arabia and the UAE attempt to clear Hodeidah of Houthi rebel fighters aligned with Iran.
Hodeidah is a city of 600,000 and the attack is the most ambitious operation launched so far by the coalition, raising fears of bloody street battles with civilians caught in the crossfire.
Around 70 per cent of Yemen’s imports come through Hodeidah, including the vast majority of its food, and the UN conducted a week of frantic diplomacy to try to avert the attack.
But the fighting began early Wednesday, with Yemeni fighters supported by the UAE attacking the southern edges of the city as coalition warplanes launched a wave of airstrikes. Around 22 Houthi fighters were killed, while three coalition fighters died.
The UN’s main concern is that the fighting will damage the port or stop the arrival of food, medicine and fuel. Around 22 million people in Yemen are dependent on aid, with at least eight million on the verge of famine. About 10,000 people have been killed since fighting began in 2015.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said the attack was “likely to exacerbate an already catastrophic humanitarian situation in Yemen.”
Anas Shahari, a spokesman for Save the Children Yemen, said the port appeared to operating at nearly full capacity Wednesday and that most of the fighting was happening on the southern outskirts of Hodeidah. But if the battle drew closer to the port or to the densely populated city centre, the effects could be devastating.
“There are 300,000 children in the city and many of them are malnourished and exclusively reliant on aid. If we leave them without assistance, a lot of children are going to die,” Shahari said.
Yemen’s internationally recognized government, backed by the Saudis and the West, said it had “exhausted all peaceful and political means” to retake Hodeidah. “The effort to liberate Hodeidah is the beginning of a complete victory,” the government said.
The Saudi-led coalition alleges that Hodeidah is being used by the Houthis to smuggle weapons from Iran, including ballistic missiles that have been fired into Saudi Arabia.
The UN Security Council will hold an emergency meeting Thursday on the Saudi-led coalition’s offensive. Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, the current council president, said the United Kingdom asked for the meeting.
A column of Yemeni pro-government forces and armoured vehicles arrives near Hodeidah airport on Wednesday, in an offensive that is targeting the port where most of the country’s food arrives, sparking famine concerns.