Forces led by Saudis be­gin as­sault on Ye­men port city

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Jon Gambrell

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMI­RATES» The Saudi-led coali­tion back­ing Ye­men’s ex­iled gov­ern­ment launched a fierce as­sault Wed­nes­day on the cru­cial port city of Hodeida, the big­gest of­fen­sive of the years­long war in the Arab world’s poor­est na­tion for the main en­try point for food in a coun­try al­ready tee­ter­ing on the brink of famine.

The at­tack on the Red Sea port aimed to drive out Ira­nian-aligned Shi­ite rebels known as Houthis, who have held Hodeida since 2015, and break the civil war’s long stale­mate. But it could set off a pro­longed street-by-street bat­tle that in­flicts heavy ca­su­al­ties.

The fear is that a pro­tracted fight could force a shut­down of Hodeida’s port at a time when a halt in aid risks tip­ping mil­lions into starvation. Some 70 per­cent of Ye­men’s food en­ters via the port, as well as the bulk of hu­man­i­tar­ian aid and fuel sup­plies. Around two-thirds of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion of 27 mil­lion re­lies on aid and 8.4 mil­lion are al­ready at risk of starv­ing.

Be­fore dawn Wed­nes­day, con­voys of ve­hi­cles ap­peared to be head­ing to­ward the rebel-held city as heavy gun­fire rang out. The as­sault, part of an op­er­a­tion dubbed “Golden Vic­tory,” be­gan with coali­tion airstrikes and shelling by naval ships, ac­cord­ing to Saudi-owned satel­lite news chan­nels and state me­dia.

Bom­bard­ment was heavy, with one aid of­fi­cial re­port­ing 30 strikes in 30 min­utes.

“Some civil­ians are en­trapped, oth­ers forced from their homes,” said Jolien Veld­wijk, the act­ing coun­try direc­tor of the aid group CARE In­ter­na­tional, which works in Hodeida. “We thought it could not get any worse, but un­for­tu­nately we were wrong.”

The ini­tial bat­tle plan ap­peared to in­volve a pin­cer move­ment. Some 2,000 troops who crossed the Red Sea from an Emi­rati naval base in the African na­tion of Eritrea were await­ing or­ders to move in from the west af­ter Ye­meni gov­ern­ment forces seize Hodeida’s port, Ye­meni se­cu­rity of­fi­cials said.

The U.S. has been sup­ply­ing tar­get­ing in­for­ma­tion to the Saudi-led coali­tion, as well as re­fu­el­ing their war­planes, but was not in­volved in mil­i­tary oper­a­tions at the port, Pen­tagon spokesman Maj. Adrian Rank­ine Galloway said.

“We do not pro­vide any ad­di­tional sup­port to the Saudi coali­tion’s mil­i­tary oper­a­tions,” he said.

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