OPERATION HODEIDAH BEGINS
Arab Coalition forces launch vast campaign to liberate Red Sea port Air strikes target Houthi defences at sites around the strategic city Four Emiratis martyred restoring legitimate government of Yemen
Yemeni troops backed by Arab Coalition forces began an assault to liberate the rebel-held Red Sea port city of Hodeidah yesterday and speed up an end to the country’s three-year war.
The campaign began before news broke that four members of the UAE Armed Forces were reported to have died while performing their duties in Yemen.
The General Headquarters announced the martyrdom of “brave servicemen” Sub-Lt Khalifa Saif Al Khatri; First WO Ali Mohammed Al Hassani; Sgt Khamis Abdullah Al Zeyoudi; and First Corp Obaid Hamdan Al Abdouli. It extended its condolences to their families.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia had warned in recent days of increased military action. It started after the expiry of a midnight deadline for the Iran-backed Houthis to leave the city.
The operation, Golden Victory, was launched after “exhausting all peaceful and political means”, Yemen’s government said. The declaration was followed by air strikes in and around Hodeidah port, hitting Houthi defences.
Residents of coastal villages and districts around southern Hodeidah had left their homes ahead of the fighting.
Yemeni officials said government forces had gone to the east coast to cut off a rebel supply line between Hodeidah and the Houthi-held capital Sanaa.
By last night, Emirati and Saudi forces were 5 kilometres south of the city’s airport. The centre of the city of 600,000 people is 4 kilometres further north, and the seaport several kilometres beyond that.
AFP reported that 22 Houthi fighters had been killed over the past 24 hours by coalition raids. It said three pro-government fighters were killed in a rebel ambush south of Hodeidah.
The Arab Coalition intervened in the war in 2015 at the request of Yemeni President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi. The Coalition’s aim is to box in the Houthis in Sanaa, cut supply lines and force them to negotiate.
“We have been and continue to seek a peaceful solution,” Mr Hadi said. “We made many concessions to avoid a military option. We, however, do not allow the exploitation of our people’s suffering and holding them hostages as a means to extend the war that the rebels sparked.”
Coalition air strikes targeting Houthi positions along the coast between Bayt Al Faqih and Ad Durayhimi killed dozens of rebels yesterday, a resident said.
The UN and International Committee of the Red Cross, meanwhile, said that all parties in Yemen’s war must protect civilians. To that end pro-government and UAE forces were
trying to secure routes for civilians to leave the city and reach safer areas.
Relief ships affiliated with the Coalition are off the coast, waiting to dock in Hodeidah.
Sulaiman Al Mazroui, the UAE’s ambassador to Britain, rejected warnings that UN peace efforts were now caught up in the fate of Hodeidah.
“We don’t think the capturing of Hodeidah will damage the peace. We think it will bring more pressure on the Houthis to sit down, rather than run away from the reality,” he told The National.
Hodeidah’s port handles 80 per cent of essential goods coming into Yemen, which the UN says is grappling with the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
About 8.4 million people in Yemen face pre-famine conditions, the World Health Organisation says.
The Houthis have used the port to smuggle Iranian-supplied weapons into the country and to profit from illegally sold humanitarian aid.
Reem Al Hashimy, the UAE Minister of State for International Co-operation, said yesterday that the coalition had prepared a large-scale and comprehensive plan for the rapid delivery of humanitarian aid to Hodeidah and surrounding areas.
“We have ships, planes and trucks with food supplies and medicine to address the immediate needs of the people,” Ms Al Hasimy said.
“Hodeidah port remains open to shipping. Should the Houthis attempt to further damage and destroy any port or logistics infrastructure, we have also put contingency plans in place to move aid by other methods to Hodeidah and points beyond.”
The Houthi militia has repeatedly fired missiles at Saudi Arabia, which the US and UN experts say are of Iranian origin.
The early stages of yesterday’s offensive followed statements from UAE and Saudi officials that military action was necessary.
Prince Khaled bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, said that the Houthi rebels had rejected all peaceful means to hand over Hodeidah.
“The Houthis have so far launched 150 ballistic missiles against civilian areas in KSA, latest of which was intercepted today,” Prince Khaled said. “No nation can accept such a threat to its land and people on its borders.”
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, said on Tuesday he was “deeply concerned” by reports that Houthi rebels in Hodeidah were forcing civil servants and civilians to take up arms.
Such action was “the Houthi response to international calls for their peaceful retreat”, Dr Gargash said.
The UN pulled all of its international staff out of Hodeidah on Monday.
Parts of Yemen are also held by Al Qaeda and ISIS.
Yemeni forces backed by the Saudi-led Coalition move into position on the outskirts of Hodeidah yesterday