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

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - ALI MAH­MOOD Aden

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.

EPA

Ye­meni forces backed by the Saudi-led Coali­tion move into po­si­tion on the out­skirts of Hodei­dah yes­ter­day

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