Ye­me­nis who fled bat­tle for Hodei­dah strug­gle to sur­vive


ADEN (Reuters) – For days, Amal would pull her four chil­dren back from the win­dows each time Apache he­li­copters at­tacked the rooftop snipers in her neigh­bor­hood south of Ye­men’s port city of Hodei­dah.

Even­tu­ally the fight­ing got too much so the fam­ily fled the al-Tahita district to seek shel­ter in the heav­ily-de­fended city cen­ter.

Amal, who de­clined to give her last name, is one of thou­sands of Ye­me­nis dis­placed by a Saudi-led coali­tion of­fen­sive launched on June 12 to take con­trol of the Red Sea port city from the Iran-aligned Houthis.

“Rock­ets were fall­ing con­stantly... Most fam­i­lies have left their homes be­cause they are afraid of be­ing killed,” she told Reuters by tele­phone.

“Houthi fight­ers were sta­tioned on rooftops of build­ings and in the al­ley­ways and coali­tion he­li­copters would at­tack them.”

The United Na­tions fears the of­fen­sive on Hodei­dah, whose port is a life­line for mil­lions of Ye­me­nis, risks exacerbating a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in which 8.4 mil­lion peo­ple are be­lieved to be on the verge of star­va­tion.

Many Ye­me­nis who have fled their homes and farms in and around Hodei­dah to head north to the Houthi-held cap­i­tal Sanaa or to safer ar­eas along the western coast and the south­ern port city of Aden say they are strug­gling to sur­vive.

In Sanaa, some fam­i­lies from Hodei­dah have only been able to find shel­ter in crum­bling one­room ce­ment struc­tures with no run­ning wa­ter or fur­ni­ture and have no source of in­come.

“We are in bad shape here ... Our men have no jobs, they can’t find work,” said Khairiya Shou’y.

Women squat­ted over a fire out­side to boil milk and cook chicken skin as chil­dren played in the dirt. In­side the rooms, fam­i­lies sit on a sole mat­tress, blan­kets or on the floor.

“We got here and didn’t get any­thing, there are no or­ga­ni­za­tions [to help], noth­ing,” said Ab­dul­rah­man Fare, adding that this shel­ter had been pro­vided by a fel­low tribesman.

The UN Of­fice for Co­or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs (OCHA) said in a Hodei­dah sit­u­a­tion re­port pub­lished on July 4 that more than 121,000 peo­ple have been dis­placed since June 1.

In the port of Khokha on the western coast, coali­tion forces have set up more than 300 tents to house the dis­placed. Women gather palm leaves to carve out some pri­vacy for their fam­i­lies while chil­dren play out­side un­der the scorch­ing sun.

“The as­sis­tance we are re­ceiv­ing is not enough. We have elderly peo­ple with us, there are peo­ple who have spe­cial needs but treat­ment is not avail­able” said Ali. “We had no choice but to leave our homes and we hope the war ends so we can re­turn.”

World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion spokesman Tarik Jasare­vic told a UN brief­ing in Geneva on Tues­day that in ad­di­tion to con­cerns about cholera and diph­the­ria, Hodei­dah gov­er­norate has one of the high­est mal­nu­tri­tion rates in the coun­try.

The Western-backed coali­tion in­ter­vened in Ye­men’s civil war in 2015 to un­seat the Houthis, who hold the most pop­u­lated ar­eas of Ye­men, and re­store the ex­iled govern­ment of Pres­i­dent Abd-Rabbu Man­sour Hadi, which has a pres­ence in Aden.

The coali­tion, led by Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates, has pledged a swift op­er­a­tion to seize Hodei­dah’s air and sea ports with­out en­ter­ing the city cen­ter in an at­tempt to cut off the Houthi’s main sup­ply line and force the move­ment to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

The al­liance has made lit­tle progress in the of­fen­sive and has an­nounced a halt to mil­i­tary oper­a­tions to give a chance for UN ef­forts to re­sume peace talks be­tween the war­ring sides.

The for­eign min­is­ter of Hadi’s govern­ment sub­mit­ted a let­ter to UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nia Guter­res on Wednes­day, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, to ask the world body to con­demn Houthi ac­tions in Hodei­dah.

Khaled Alye­many ac­cused the Houthis of plant­ing mines and plac­ing heavy weapons and “sniper nests” in res­i­den­tial ar­eas.

Both sides have been crit­i­cized by aid and rights groups in the three-year war that has killed more than 10,000 peo­ple. The coali­tion has come un­der scru­tiny for airstrikes that have of­ten hit civil­ian ar­eas, al­though it de­nies do­ing so in­ten­tion­ally.

A man liv­ing in Zubaid area south of Hodei­dah is wait­ing for the fight­ing to end. “We don’t think we can sur­vive this, but we have nowhere to go,” he said.

(Khaled Ab­dul­lah/Reuters)

PEO­PLE DIS­PLACED from Hodei­dah sit in a host fam­ily’s house on the out­skirts of Sanaa ear­lier this week.

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