UAE ‘forced’ Yemeni president to back Hudaydah operation

Minnie Murray
June 15, 2018

The Red Sea port, controlled by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels who hail from northern Yemen, serves as the entry point for 70 percent of the impoverished country's imports as it teeters on the brink of starvation.

Before dawn Wednesday, convoys of vehicles appeared to be heading toward the rebel-held city as heavy gunfire rang out, according to videos posted on social media.

Turki al-Malki, a Saudi military spokesman, described coalition forces as around 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from the airfield in an interview with Saudi-owned satellite news channel Al Arabiya.

On Thursday, authorities at Hodeida port said the Red Sea lifeline remained open to shipping.

Yemen's exiled government "has exhausted all peaceful and political means to remove the Houthi militia from the port of Hudaida", it said in a statement.

The ongoing Coalition intervention in Yemen came at the request of the legitimate Government of Yemen after Houthi rebels took the Yemeni capital by force in 2014.

The two countries also vowed to distribute urgently-needed food supplies and to supply hospitals in Hodeida with medical equipment and staff. Officials from Saudi Arabia and the UAE also said the countries would work to ensure electricity continues to flow to Yemeni homes, hospitals and the port in Hodeida. Over 150 ballistic missiles in all have been fired into the kingdom by the Houthis, according to Saudi officials.

"These efforts included the recent contribution of $1.5 billion to United Nations relief efforts in Yemen, the largest in United Nations history, as well as initiatives to enhance the capacity of ports throughout Yemen, including facilitating the entry of cranes into Hodeidah". It includes Emirati and Sudanese troops as well as Yemenis, drawn from southern separatists, local Red Sea coast fighters and a battalion led by a nephew of late ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The U.N. says some 600,000 people live in and around Hodeida, and "as many as 250,000 people may lose everything - even their lives" in the assault.

The United Nations says 22 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian aid, with 8.4 million on the verge of starvation - a figure that could rise to 10 million by the end of this year, For most, the port is the only route for food supplies.

Wednesday's was the largest battle of Yemen's three-year civil war between the Saudi alliance and Houthi rebels.

The Saudi-UAE attack is part of the coalition's continuing military effort, again with American assistance, to topple the Houthi regime and restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who fled the country almost four years ago. Though some officials have said the United States has been pushing the UAE not to attack the port, more recently the signs are that the United States intends to have its military participate in the attack itself.

He said "aid operations will be severely challenged in the event of sustained fighting in densely populated urban areas" and stressed that people trying to flee conflict areas "must be allowed to do so without any hindrance".

On Monday, the UN Security Council said it supported Griffiths' diplomatic efforts but did not specifically call on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, whose troops are backing Yemeni forces, to refrain from attacking Hodeida. UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths is due to update the Security Council soon on his proposals for a negotiated settlement.

"The situation is dire and we don't know how it will end", said Khadija, a teacher in Hodeidah. "We hope we don't need to use them", UNICEF Yemen representative Meritxell Relano said on her Twitter account.

"As we have seen in post-ISIS Mosul, improving the humanitarian situation significantly, requires reinstating legitimate government institutions and providing continued robust worldwide support". They have always been restricting imports into Hodeidah to prevent what they say is Iranian traffic of missiles to the Houthis, and say they can swiftly improve food supplies once they control the port.

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