Arab-led coalition launches assault on Hudaida port
ADEN/ABU DHABI: A coalition of Arab states launched an attack on Yemen’s main port city Wednesday in the largest battle of the war, aiming to bring the ruling Houthi movement to its knees at the risk of worsening the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.
Arab warplanes and warships pounded Houthi fortifications to support ground operations by foreign and Yemeni troops massed south of the port of Hudaida in operation “Golden Victory.”
Four Emirati soldiers were killed in the assault, a statement from the United Arab Emirates armed forces said. These are the first deaths confirmed by the coalition forces.
Fighting raged near Hudaida airport and Al-Durayhmi, a rural area 10 km south of the city, media controlled by the Arab states and their Yemeni allies reported.
The Houthis, however, said that they foiled the coalition’s attack on Hudaida, according to the Hezbollah-linked War Media Center.
The assault marks the first time the Arab states have tried to capture such a heavily defended major city since joining the war three years ago against the Iran-aligned Houthis, who control Sanaa and most of the populated areas.
The coalition’s plan is to take control only of the airport and seaport, plus the route leading to the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, spokesman Turki al-Maliki said. “We will not fight a street war with the Houthis in Hudaida city for the safety of civilians,” he told al-Hadath TV.
The operation began after a three-day deadline set by the United Arab Emirates for the Houthis to quit the port.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE announced what they say is a “multifaceted plan” to protect civilians, includes establishing routes for food, medical supplies and oil shipments to Hudaida from Saudi Arabia’s southern city of Jizan and the UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi.
The two countries also vowed to distribute urgently needed food supplies and to provide hospitals in Hudaida with medical equipment and staff.
The United Nations said 22 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian aid, with 8.4 million on the verge of famine – a figure that could rise to 10 million by the end of this year. For most the port is the only route for food supplies.
Despite the fighting, the U.N. kept up its aid supplies. “We are there and delivering, we are not leaving Hudaida,” said Lise Grande, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen.
The U.N. Security Council is due to meet behind closed doors Thursday – at the request of Britain, diplomats said.
The Houthis deployed military vehicles and troops in the city center and near the port, as warplanes struck the coast to the south, a resident told Reuters.
CARE International, one of the few aid agencies still there, said 30 airstrikes hit the city within half an hour. “Some civilians are entrapped, others forced from their homes. We thought it could not get any worse, but unfortunately we were wrong,” CARE’s acting country director, Jolien Veldwijk said.
Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV quoted witnesses describing “concentrated and intense” bombing near the port itself.
The U.N. special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said the world body was talking to both sides to try to avert a battle. “We call on them to exercise restraint & engage with political efforts to spare Hudaida a military confrontation,” he tweeted.
The coalition said it would try to keep the port running and can ease the crisis once they seize it by lifting import restrictions they have imposed. Port workers said five ships were docked at Hudaida port unloading goods, but no new entry permits would be issued Wednesday.
Houthi leader Mohammad Ali alHouthi criticized the Gulf Arabs’ western allies. “
The British told us a week ago that the Emiratis and the Saudis had told them they would not enter the battle of Hudaida without their agreement and assistance,” he said.
“So we hold them and America responsible for any new battle in Hudaida,” he added.
Exiled President Abed Rabbou Mansour al-Hadi, said his government had proposed compromises but added that he would not let the Houthis hold the Yemeni people “hostage to a prolonged war which the Houthis ignited.
The coalition attack on the port is the biggest of Yemen’s war.