COALI­TION FORCES AT­TACK HOUTHI PO­SI­TIONS IN BAT­TLE FOR HODEI­DAH

▶ On se­cond day of ad­vance, pro-gov­ern­ment al­liance troops move to within two kilo­me­tres of port city’s air­port

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - ALI MAH­MOOD Aden Con­tin­ued on page 2

Coali­tion air­craft and ships pounded Houthi po­si­tions in the Ye­meni city of Hodei­dah for a se­cond day on Thurs­day, as troops moved closer to cap­tur­ing the air­port.

The Arab-backed of­fen­sive in­cluded the use of Apache at­tack he­li­copters to hit a strip of coastal ter­ri­tory con­trolled by the Iran-backed rebels.

The coali­tion also struck the main road link­ing Hodei­dah to the rebel-held cap­i­tal Sanaa, which lies north-east, to block re­in­force­ments, res­i­dents and Ye­meni mil­i­tary of­fi­cials said.

Min­is­ter of State for For­eign Af­fairs Dr An­war Gar­gash said the mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion, named Golden Vic­tory, would open the way to a po­lit­i­cal process lead­ing to peace in Ye­men.

Of the Houthis, he said: “They over­threw the coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tional gov­ern­ment and have op­pressed and plun­dered the coun­try since.”

By Thurs­day evening, UAE and Saudi forces were two kilo­me­tres south of the city’s air­port, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, rep­re­sent­ing an ad­vance of three kilo­me­tres over po­si­tions held 24 hours ear­lier. The cen­tre of the city of 600,000 peo­ple lies four kilo­me­tres far­ther north, and the sea­port sev­eral kilo­me­tres beyond that.

Two se­nior Houthi com­man­ders were re­port­edly killed in fight­ing near the air­port on Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day, but no con­fir­ma­tion nor fur­ther de­tail were avail­able.

The clashes left 30 Houthis dead, med­i­cal sources told the AFP news agency, with nine pro-gov­ern­ment troops killed in the same area. Mil­i­tary sources said the deaths were caused by mines and snipers.

The clashes came as the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil pre­pared to hold ur­gent talks on the mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion.

The Arab Coali­tion in­ter­vened in the war in 2015 at the re­quest of the in­ter­na­tion­al­lyrecog­nised gov­ern­ment of Ye­meni Pres­i­dent Ab­drabu Mansur Hadi.

The cur­rent of­fen­sive on Hodei­dah is the first time since the coali­tion joined the war that they have at­tempted to cap­ture such a well-de­fended city. Their aim is to box in the Houthis in the cap­i­tal Sanaa, cut their sup­ply lines and force them to the ne­go­ti­at­ing table.

“This dead­lock must end,” Dr Gar­gash said.

It was clear, the min­is­ter said, that for the UN-led po­lit­i­cal process to suc­ceed, the sit­u­a­tion on the ground had to change.

On Thurs­day, Saudi Ara­bia’s air de­fence forces shot down

a mis­sile that had been fired from Ye­men over the town of Khamis Mushayt.

The Houthi mili­tia has re­peat­edly fired mis­siles – which the United States and UN ex­perts say are of Ira­nian ori­gin – at Saudi Ara­bia; a claim Tehran de­nies.

The UN and In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross have urged all par­ties in the war to pro­tect civil­ians.

Hodei­dah’s port han­dles 80 per cent of es­sen­tial goods com­ing into Ye­men, where 8.4 mil­lion peo­ple face pre-famine con­di­tions, ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion.

The coali­tion, how­ever, says the Houthis have used the port not only to smug­gle Ira­nian-sup­plied weapons into the coun­try but also to profit from il­le­gally sold hu­man­i­tar­ian aid.

Ye­men has been in cri­sis since the 2011 mass protests that ended the 33-year rule of Ali Ab­dul­lah Saleh.

Mr Hadi came to power in a Saudi-bro­kered tran­si­tion, but the Houthis drove him out.

For a time Mr Saleh joined forces with the Houthis, but they turned on each other last year and the for­mer pres­i­dent was killed.

Parts of Ye­men are also held by Al Qaeda and ISIS.

On Thurs­day, au­thor­i­ties said the Red Sea port re­mained open to ship­ping de­spite the nearby fight­ing.

“We still have seven ships in the port. The work in the port is nor­mal. And we have five other ships stand­ing by wait­ing to en­ter,” said port di­rec­tor Da­wood Fadel.

Saudi and UAE aid ships re­main in wa­ters west of Hodei­dah, said coali­tion spokesman Turki Al Ma­liki.

Obaid Salem Al Zaabi, UAE Am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions in Geneva, mean­while, said four Emi­rati troops killed in Ye­men were tak­ing part in the cam­paign to re­cap­ture Hodei­dah.

The am­bas­sador made the com­ments dur­ing a news con­fer­ence with jour­nal­ists in the Swiss city. Ab­dul­lah Al Rabeeah, head of Saudi Ara­bia’s King Sal­man Hu­man­i­tar­ian Aid and Re­lief Cen­tre, in a press con­fer­ence late on Wed­nes­day sought to al­lay the fears of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity over the coali­tion’s mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions.

“This coali­tion will start to op­er­ate an air and sea bridge, as well as land, to trans­port aid and med­i­cal sup­plies, food, shel­ter, fuel and other ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties to Hodei­dah prov­ince,” he said.

Aides to Mr Hadi, who has spent much of the war in ex­ile in Riyadh, said he was pre­par­ing on Thurs­day to visit the south­ern port city of Aden, where the gov­ern­ment set up its base after it was forced out of Sanaa.

“Pres­i­dent Ab­drabu Mansur Hadi will ar­rive at the in­terim cap­i­tal of Aden in the com­ing hours ... from Saudi Ara­bia, with ad­vis­ers and se­nior of­fi­cials,” a se­nior Ye­meni gov­ern­ment source told AFP.

The United Na­tions pulled all of its in­ter­na­tional staff out of Hodei­dah on Mon­day. The UN en­voy to Ye­men, Martin Grif­fiths, is due to present a peace plan to the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil next week, in which it is hoped the Houthis will co-op­er­ate.

Hodei­dah has stayed open to ship­ping de­spite the of­fen­sive, with seven ves­sels in port and five wait­ing to en­ter

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