ADEN, June 24, 2018 (Reuters) - Yemen’s Houthis deployed additional forces in the main port city of Hodeidah on Sunday as a Saudi-led military coalition moved closer to the city center in the largest offensive of the war, raising U.N. fears of a humanitarian catastrophe.
The alliance led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates launched its assault on the heavily defended Red Sea city on June 12 to try to weaken the Iran-aligned Houthi movement by cutting off a key supply line for the group which controls the capital Sanaa and most populated areas.
“There is a heavy deployment of armed Houthis in the city and new check points have been set up in neighborhoods where there are supporters of the Tehama brigades,” said one resident, referring to a Yemeni faction from the Red Sea coastal plain that is fighting with coalition forces.
Fierce clashes broke out after midnight near Hodeidah University, around 3 km (1.9 miles) west of the city center, on the coastal road linking the airport to the port, added the resident, who requested anonymity.
Coalition forces seized the airport on Wednesday and have been consolidating their hold in the area as U.N. efforts continued to reach a political deal that would avert an assault on the port, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis.
The United Nations fears the escalation in fighting could exacerbate what is already the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis, with 22 million Yemenis dependent on aid and an estimated 8.4 million believed to be on the verge of starvation.
The Western-backed coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 to restore the internationally recognised government in exile, but since then neither side has made much progress in the war, widely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The World Food Program said the fighting could result in up to 1.1 million people being either displaced or trapped within the city and in need of emergency food assistance.
U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths has visited Sanaa and Saudi Arabia to try to negotiate a solution.
The Houthis have indicated they would be willing to hand over management of the port to the United Nations, sources told Reuters. A U.S. official said Washington was urging the Saudis and Emiratis to accept the deal.
“The coalition will achieve its goal of liberating Hodeida, city & port. Yet we will support all efforts to achieve an unconditional peaceful withdrawal of Houthi gangs,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in a Twitter post on Saturday.
The Arab states say they must recapture Hodeidah to deprive the Houthis of their main source of income and prevent them from smuggling in Iranian-made missiles, which have been launched at Saudi cities. The group and Tehran deny the accusations.
The coalition has pledged a swift military operation to take over the airport and seaport without entering the city center, to minimize civilian casualties and maintain the flow of goods.
“The battle for Hodeida is reaching the point of no return,” the International Crisis Group said in a conflict alert.
“This is the final, fragile moment in which it may still be possible for UN-led negotiations to prevent a destructive fight that is likely to exacerbate dire humanitarian conditions and further delay broader negotiations to end the war.”
ADEN, June 22, 2018 (MENA) - The Yemeni armed forces took control of a number of positions in Lahij governorate after clashes with Houthi militias, a Yemeni military source was quoted by Saba news agency as saying on Friday.
The army regained control of Al Jabal Al Ahmar area and a number of its surrounding areas after fierce confrontations with the rebels.
Dozens of Houthis were killed and injured and several military vehicles belonging to Houthi fighters were also destroyed in the confrontations, the source added.
BRUSSELS, June 22, 2018 ( MENA) - Spokesman for the Arab coalition in support of legitimacy in Yemen Col. Turki al-Malki said on Friday that the pace of military operations in Yemen’s Saada is accelerating, stressing that the coalition forces have achieved progress on the ground.
Speaking at a press conference held in Geneva and broadcast by Al Arabiya news channel, Malki said the political and diplomatic solution will always be the ideal one for the Yemeni people.
The Arab coalition will continue its efforts to restore legitimacy in Yemen, he added.
Commenting on the ongoing military operation in Hodeidah, Malki asserted that the safety of Yemeni civilians is a top priority for the coalition.
The coalition’s operations in Hodeidah will continue, he said, noting that liberating the port will help secure sea navigation in international waterways.
Malki is currently visiting Belgium to hold talks with European officials on the situation in Yemen as well as on aid delivery to the conflict-torn country.
Khokha, June 21, 2018 (News Wires) - Reinforcements rolled into Yemen's Hodeida yesterday as the army and its regional allies set their sights on the city's port held by rebels who have vowed to fight to the end.
Military sources said the army, backed by troops from the United Arab Emirates, had been sending backup troops to the area ahead of a major offensive to close in on the Red Sea port.
"Our preparations are in their final stages for the advance on the port," a military source told AFP, requesting anonymity.
The Iran-allied Huthi rebels have refused to cede control of Hodeida port, the entry point of three quarters of imports to impoverished Yemen.
The Huthis have controlled the port since 2014, when they drove the government out of the capital and seized much of northern Yemen and a string of Red Sea ports.
On June 13, Yemen's army and its allies launched their offensive to clear Hodeida of the rebels, raising UN concerns for vital aid shipments and food imports through the city's docks.
The pro-government forces announced the capture of the Hodeida airport on Wednesday morning.
The airport had been disused but it housed a major rebel base just inland from the coastal road into the city.
Rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Huthi on Wednesday night called for reinforcements to repel the advance of the UAE-backed government forces, after ongoing fighting left nearly 350 people dead in one week.
ADEN, June 20, 2018 (Reuters) - Fears of a humanitarian crisis in Yemen’s main port city Hodeidah grew as battles spilled into residential districts on Wednesday after Arab coalition forces seized the airport from the Iran-aligned Houthis.
Residents said coalition aircraft were bombing Houthi positions on roads leading to the airport as the group dug in against an onslaught by the Arab alliance to take the city, the Houthis’ main port and the lifeline for millions of Yemenis.
Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki told Al Arabiya television in Brussels that the alliance was now destroying Houthi fortifications near the airport and he accused the group of placing tanks inside residential areas.
“We have been stuck in our houses for five days because we are afraid of going out due to the fighting. Our food supplies will run out within a week and there is no water,” Fatima, 56, said, adding that bottled water was very expensive.
The escalation in fighting has forced many to flee their homes and hampered humanitarian agencies, which are concerned about a potential cholera outbreak in the densely populated city as fighting cuts off water supplies.
“People are saying water has been disrupted in parts of Hodeidah already. Some areas even prior to the war were not even connected to the main water supply,” said Saleem Al Shamiri, livelihood coordinator at the Norwegian Refugee Council.
“We’ve done some initiatives...to educate people about safe water use as temperatures are rising,” he told Reuters.
He said that while many residents had fled the city, most people in Hodeidah do not have the financial means to leave.
UN officials estimate that in a worst-case scenario the fighting could cost up to 250,000 lives, especially if a cholera epidemic occurs in the widely impoverished region.
The coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, intervened in Yemen’s war in 2015 to try to roll back Houthi rebels’ lightning capture of the main population centres and reinstate the internationally recognised government.
The coalition launched its offensive on heavily defended Hodeidah a week ago and pledged a swift operation to minimise civilian casualties and avoid disrupting vital aid to millions of Yemenis via the Red Sea port.
“Hodeidah port is operating as normal and the movement of ships is normal,” Malki said. “We have humanitarian and development plans for when we liberate the city.”
The UN World Food Programme said on Tuesday it was hastening to unload three ships at the port that contain enough food for six million people for one month.
Though the coalition pledged to try to avoid battles in densely populated urban neighborhoods, the Houthis were well dug into Hodeidah as it constitutes the key supply line to territory they control, including the capital, Sanaa.
Saudi Arabia accuses the Houthis of using Hodeidah port to smuggle Iranian-made weapons, including missiles targeting Saudi cities. The group and Tehran deny the accusation.
ADEN, June 19, 2018 (MENA) - Backed by the coalition supporting legitimacy in Yemen, Yemeni troops were able to enter the main complex at Hodaida airport, a military source said Tuesday.
The troops stormed the airport after fierce clashes with Houthi militias early in the morning, Al Arabiya al Hadath said.
Houthi militias, however, continue to close major roads, set up barriers and dig trenches in the streets of Hodaida; which are all signs of the group's intention not to peacefully hand over the city in line with an initiative by UN envoy Martin Griffiths to that effect.