UAE says Yemen's Houthis must evacuate key port city

16 June, 2018, 16:12 | Author: Kim Reid
  • Battle for Yemen's biggest port under way

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 years-long war in the Arab world's poorest nation for the main entry point for food in a country already teetering on the brink of starvation.

The port is also believed to be the major transfer point for Iranian weapons, material and equipment for the Houthi militia since civil war broke out three years earlier. Yemen is heavily dependent on imported food, fuel and medicine that come through Hodeidah port. Around two-thirds of the country's population of 27 million relies on aid and 8.4 million are already at risk of starving.

Social media users shared video of what appeared to be a convoy of vehicles approaching the crucial port city early Wednesday morning.

Other aid officials warn an attack on the port would set back chances of a political settlement and make it hard for the flow of aid to continue.

"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. "Now that fighting has begun, all we can do is prepare for the worst".

"The current & illegal Houthi occupation of Hodeidah is prolonging the Yemeni war".

The officials spoke on condition in anonymity because they weren't authorized to brief reporters. "Liberation of the port of Hodeida is a milestone in our struggle to regain Yemen from the militias". The expectation is that a Saudi-led attack on the city will begin within a matter of days.

In the past week, fighting has intensified and Emirati forces in the Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen's exiled government have advanced on Hodeidah.

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Exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and many of his advisers now live in Saudi Arabia after Shiite rebels known as Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, in September 2014.

Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war pitting the coalition against the Iran-backed Houthis since March 2015.

The United Nations and other aid groups already had pulled their global staff from Hodeida ahead of the rumored assault.

The port remained open, however. Grande on Monday said while the United Nations had relocated worldwide staff from the city, numerous local staff had chosen to stay to try to continue United Nations programs.

Aid groups have expressed grave concerns for the safety of hundreds of thousands of civilians in the city whose lives could be at risk from the assault launched Wednesday.

His organization said more than one-quarter of Yemen's population is on the brink of starvation.

He called on all parties to engage with United Nations efforts "to spare Hodeida any military confrontation" and "give peace a chance".

The three-year stalemated war has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than 3 million.

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Global aid group Doctors Without Borders said Monday the Saudi-led coalition attacked a cholera treatment center in the northern province of Hajja.

United Nations humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told reporters after briefing the Security Council behind closed doors later Monday that it's critical to prevent "a battle" for Hodeida which is a vital link for supplying millions of Yemenis with the necessities of life. Already, Yemeni security officials said some were fleeing the fighting.

"Should we leave the Houthis smuggling missiles?" Griffiths' recent appointment as envoy and his push for new negotiations may have encouraged the Saudi-led coalition to strengthen its hand ahead of any peace talks with the Houthis.

"People in the governorate have reported heavy airstrikes along coastal areas and roads in districts south of Hodeida", the council said.

The attack also comes as Washington has been focused on President Donald Trump's recent summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Saudi-led coalition warplanes and Apache helicopters provided "continuous" air support to pro-government forces, striking Huthi positions, military sources said.

"This continues a clear trend in Yemen's war: the warring factions are overconfident in their military prospects, nearly always press for military advantage when there is an opportunity for negotiation, and are all too often starkly indifferent to the humanitarian impact of their actions and the plight of ordinary citizens", the Crisis Group report says.

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