Arab coalition seizes entrance to Yemen's Houthi-held Hodeidah airport

Minnie Murray
June 17, 2018

Forces from an alliance of Arab states seized two entrances to the airport in Yemen's main port city on Friday, in an offensive against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement that the United Nations fears could trigger a starvation imperilling millions of lives.

"We saw the resistance forces in the square at the northwestern entrance to the airport", said a Hodeidah resident, referring to Yemeni allies of the Saudi-led Arab alliance. It will be the second time the Council convenes this week over the situation in Yemen, which aid groups warn stares at an imminent humanitarian crisis. Around two-thirds of Yemen's population of 27 million relies on aid and 8.4 million are already at risk of starving.

The Houthis, from a Shia minority, deny being Tehran's pawns and say they took power in a popular revolt and are defending Yemen from invasion by its neighbours.

"The Houthis have gathered a large number of their fighters in the city and on the outskirts", Bassim al-Jenani, a freelance Yemeni journalist, told Middle East Eye. "This comes from this seaport".

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gives a statement after delivering a speech on disarmament and denuclearisation at the University of Geneva (UNIGE) in Geneva, Switzerland, May 24, 2018.

Communications sector employee Mohammed said that the battle of Hodeidah would be a pivotal point in the course of the liberation of the whole of Yemen, which he described as transgressed upon by "Iranian militias". In a report in January, the panel cited the fact that ships coming into the port face random inspections, require United Nations approval and that no weapons have been seized since March 2017.

Most casualties among the Houthis were caused by Saudi and Emirati warships and planes pounding sites being defended by the Houthis.

Dawad also said the southern gate of Hodeida city was captured by pro-coalition forces.

The mother of two made a decision to leave her village of Taif a few days ago, "during the last few days of the holy month of Ramadan". The council, however, maintained that no direct attacks have been reported within Hodeida city despite the presence of fighter jets. The Arab coalition supporting Yemen's government, which includes the UAE, has deployed thousands of troops to support local forces in the offensive.

They struck some 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Hodeida, in a diversion from the frontline fighting around the city's disused airport.

The ground offensive south of Hodeida is led by the United Arab Emirates, a key ally of both Saudi Arabia and the U.S. military.

The clashes came as the UN Security Council met for urgent talks on the military operation and called for the port, held by the Houthis along with the capital Sanaa since 2014, to be "kept open".

The assault is a dramatic gamble by the Arab states, who insist that they can swiftly capture the port without a major disruption to aid supplies for a country already experiencing the world's most pressing humanitarian crisis.

"There is no substitute for Hodeida".

Aid groups say there have been no reports of shelling or bombing inside the city.

"The offensive against Hodeida risks triggering catastrophic consequences for all of Yemen", Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement yesterday ahead of the Security Council meeting later in the day.

The coalition's initial battle plan appears to involve a pincer movement.

He said Yemeni forces and the coalition have liberates areas in the south and the north "and we are nearly now in the areas close to our capital", Sanaa.

French authorities have not confirmed that they have agreed to fill the gap. The official also said the United States had rejected a request for such help.

Hodeida, home to almost 600,000 people, is some 150 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of Sanaa, Yemen's capital, which is under Houthi control. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war in March 2015. Even though the death toll could not be ascertained, the United Nations said last week that in a worst-case scenario as many as 2,50,000 people could be killed in the offensive.

The Saudi-led coalition and its mercenaries began a massive operation on Wednesday to bring Yemen's western port city of Hudaydah under their control.

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