Saudi-Led Alliance Gears up for Assault on Key Yemeni Port City
14 June, 2018, 14:19
A Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen's exiled government began an assault Wednesday morning on Yemen's port city of Hodeida, a crucial battle in the three-year-old conflict that aid agencies warned could push the Arab world's poorest country into further chaos.
Arab warplanes and warships pounded Houthi fortifications to support ground operations by foreign and Yemeni troops massed south of the port of Hodeidah in operation "Golden Victory".
It is the first time the Saudi-led coalition of mostly Gulf states has tried to capture such a well-defended major city in Yemen.
Lise Grande, UN resident and humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, speaking by telephone from the capital Sanaa, said that her office was drawing up options to ensure aid delivery to millions of Yemenis "in case of a possible siege of Hodeidah", including a humanitarian airlift.
A United Nations political envoy for Yemen had been shuttling between the Houthis, Saudi Arabia and the UAE to try to reach a political solution to avert the assault on Hodeidah.
Riyadh says the Houthis use the port to smuggle Iranian-made weapons, including missiles that have targeted Saudi cities - accusations denied by the group and Tehran. "Some civilians are entrapped, others forced from their homes", said Jolien Veldwijk, acting country director of the aid group CARE International, which works in Hodeida.
There were even a few scant claims that USA military advisers were on board the coalition warship when it was hit, but Pentagon Spokesman Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway told Business Insider that there are no USA military advisers on the ground and he said he hadn't even heard of the ship getting hit.
Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV quoted witnesses describing "concentrated and intense" bombing near the port itself.
"Under global humanitarian law, parties to the conflict have to do everything possible to protect civilians and ensure they have access to the assistance they need to survive", said Lise Grande, the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Yemen.
Gunfire has erupted near Yemen's port city of Hodeida as a Saudi-led coalition's deadline expired for Shiite rebels there to withdraw.
The request for the Security Council meeting came after the United Nations envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said he was still holding negotiations on keeping the key port open to aid deliveries. "We call on them to exercise restraint & engage with political efforts to spare Hodeidah a military confrontation", he tweeted.
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United Nations refugee chief Filippo Grandi said there was a danger Yemenis might try to flee across the sea to Somalia or Djibouti.
The conflict has left almost 10,000 people dead in Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country. A major battle could test that support, especially if many civilians are killed or supplies disrupted.
Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia and some of its Arab allies have been carrying out airstrikes against the Houthi Ansarullah movement in Yemen in an attempt to restore power to fugitive former president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, a close ally of Riyadh. Aid agencies urged President Emmanuel Macron to cancel a planned Paris conference on Yemen co-chaired with Saudi Arabia.
The UAE has said coalition forces plan to keep the port operational but warned that the Houthis could sabotage infrastructure and place land and sea mines as they withdraw.
Yemen's exiled government says their forces and allied Saudi-led troops launched their assault on Hodeida only after "exhausting all peaceful and political means".
The Houthis deny they are Iranian pawns and say their revolt is against corruption and defending Yemen from invaders.
The forces managed to liberate new strategic areas in Al Duraihimi district and areas adjacent to Hodeidah airport after penetrating the Houthi militias frontlines.
Houthi forces have also used improvised surface-to-air missile systems captured from the Yemeni military to attack Saudi-led coalition aircraft operating over the country.
The Saudi-led coalition did not immediately acknowledge the incident.
The Sunni Muslim Arab states see the Houthi rise as expansionism by their Shi'ite foe Iran.
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